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Miramax in Focus

The Queen DVD Review

The Queen (2006) movie poster The Queen

US Theatrical Release: September 30, 2006 / Running Time: 103 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Stephen Frears / Writer: Peter Morgan

Cast: Helen Mirren (Queen Elizabeth II), Michael Sheen (Prime Minister Tony Blair), James Cromwell (Prince Philip), Helen McCrory (Cherie Blair), Alex Jennings (Prince Charles), Roger Allam (Robin Janvrin), Sylvia Syms (The Queen Mother), Mark Bazeley (Alistair Campbell), Tim McMullan (Stephen Lamport), Douglas Reith (Lord Airlie)

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Far more focused than the broad biopic its title suggests, Miramax's 2006 drama The Queen deals almost exclusively with a single week late in the summer of 1997. In doing so, it argues the period of seven days that claimed the life of Diana, Princess of Wales (as well as the unmentioned Mother Teresa) was an utterly important one for both the monarch in question -- England's Queen Elizabeth II -- and the institution she represents.

The Queen takes a widely-documented event -- the immediate aftermath to the young death of the 20th century's most famous royal -- and depicts it in new light.
The view that most people held of this tragedy becomes an outsider's perspective as the film offers opposing looks from those who just happened to be (and remain) England's two most powerful individuals. They are Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren in an Oscar-winning performance) and Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), two governmental heads whose different backgrounds and positions shape their divergent reactions to Princess Diana's fatal car accident.

Unlike the grief-stricken public that knew Diana from her regular media appearances, neither Blair nor the Queen seems very personally distraught by the news. This may be their only common ground, however. The 44-year-old Blair, the country's youngest Prime Minister in nearly two centuries, feels instantly indebted to the sorrowful people of England. The septuagenarian Queen, whose reign predates Blair's birth, thinks the death ought to be handled in a private fashion.

In an Oscar-winning performance, Helen Mirren portrays Queen Elizabeth II, the United Kingdom's detached, private monarch. Michael Sheen depicts modern UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, who beginning his term in 1997, was the country's youngest leader in well over a century.

One full year since her son's divorce from Diana was finalized, tradition-observing Elizabeth II can appreciate the loss being felt by Prince Charles (Alex Jennings) and especially the two adolescent sons now motherless. But she also recognizes the lack of a royal familial tie, which ought to preclude any official pomp, even for the beloved, charitable matron Blair dubs "the people's princess" in a famous speech on the gloomy news-breaking morning. Those directly around the Queen -- namely, her testy, kilt-wearing husband Prince Philip (James Cromwell), her mother Queen Elizabeth (Sylvia Syms) and Private Secretary Robin Janvrin (Roger Allam) -- are in agreement that a quiet, distant stance is to be taken.

The Queen's subjects do not agree with such a non-response. They cry out for a statement and gestures to respect Diana's memory. Local newspapers pick up on this public sentiment, adding a sour sidebar to supplement coverage of the massive outpouring of flowers and sympathy. As the Queen and her circle remain steadfastly silent and removed from London (on holiday in Scotland), Blair encourages a change of face, in the midst of quickly-growing disapproval of the monarchy.

Being allowed inside the walls of diametrically opposed leaders during a time of crisis is certainly an interesting, almost guilty pleasure that The Queen affords us. Gladly, that which we peak in on has little to do with politics, even if the central crux for all the lead characters deals with the projection of public image. This docudrama from director Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, High Fidelity) earned accolades and acclaim not merely for Helen Mirren's highly-decorated performance, but also for its involving human drama. Accuracy appears to be upheld well, at least well enough to convince anyone who could comment on such an insider's world. Surely Peter Morgan's script revels in speculation and has some fun playing to and against certain expectations of these public figures. More importantly, it places us in a compelling world where we essentially assume the role of image consultants, in response to the real and replicated press coverage that is regularly seen flowing in from the outside.

Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip (American actor James Cromwell, "Babe") watch news of Princess Diana's accident. The Queen shares a chat with Elizabeth, The Queen Mother (Sylvia Sims) on a walk through a royal garden.

In truth, The Queen is not far off from the types of light comedies that imagine what it would be like to be royalty or some kind of political leader. Only, this affair is played straight-faced, met with few laughs, and based heavily in reality as dictated by perception and research. Not a period drama and not a political drama, but a human drama and one which is hard to resist,
The Queen has doubtlessly become the brightest beacon for Miramax Films since founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein left Disney's indie division a gaunt shadow of its illustrious past in 2005.

The movie's North American gross of over $56 million was quite extraordinary, outdoing plenty a high-profile film shown in over 3,000 theaters. It was easily Miramax's top earner for 2006, even though the studio only handled distribution on this continent. (The film's equally impressive overseas earnings went to more than a dozen different local distributors.) Box office success reflected near-unanimously favorable reviews. As often is the case, the mix of critical acclaim and sturdy cinema attendance left the film in fine position during the winter awards season. When the dust cleared, The Queen had won more than fifty major awards.

A majority of these honors -- and the only Oscar spawned from six nominations -- went to Helen Mirren. The high marks Mirren garnered are merited, though singling out her spot-on turn (as the DVD cover boldly does) neglects the prowess of the film as a whole, which took the top BAFTA prize and was considered for Best Picture at both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes. It also overlooks Michael Sheen, whose performance as the fish-finger-eating, soccer-jersey-wearing modern Prime Minister is equally spirited and important, as well as a cracking script, savvy direction, and a fine supporting cast. All things considered, The Queen impresses much and reflection upon its intended origins -- British television, where Frears, Sheen, and Morgan previously collaborated on another Tony Blair drama -- cast a positive light on the country's use of the small screen.

As a lifelong Yankee, thinking back to late August/early September of 1997, I remember the vast coverage of Princess Diana's paparazzi-prompted death, the outpouring of grief, and the lavish funeral. I can't recall a single thing about the Queen's delayed response or England's discontent with it. In truth, I can't remember or even imagine thinking about the English monarchy's official reaction to the matter. I don't doubt that Britons felt differently and can happily conclude that, with or without pre-existing interest or knowledge, The Queen largely succeeds at captivating a non-English audience. Still, I can't help but wonder if this riveting character piece doesn't overdramatize or overthink its subject. I also can't help but be amazed that a bold drama conceived for TV which vilifies the Queen for most of its runtime be so warmly received throughout the globe. All the same, the attention and praise bestowed upon this production are justified. It is a movie well worth seeing.

Buy The Queen on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround (Spanish)
Subtitles: English, Spanish;
Closed Captioned
Release Date: April 24, 2007
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99 (Reduced from $29.99)
Black Keepcase with Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on Blu-ray Disc


The Queen appears on DVD in its 1.85:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio and is of course enhanced for 16x9 displays. It's tough to give the high praise that new studio films usually earn, if only because a considerable amount of the video possesses shortcomings, due to the nature of television transmissions, or in the case of faux broadcasts, the illusion of such. Even ignoring all the footage that is or is supposed to resemble TV newsreels, the new "real-world" visuals are not without some flaws, though typically this is little more than light grain which is at least sometimes intentional.

In the sound department, The Queen offers a Dolby 5.1 track in its native English in addition to a Spanish dub in Dolby Surround. The default audio presentation is unsurprisingly low-key, with only Alexandre Desplat's infrequently-flaring, Oscar-nominated score making use of the full soundfield. For the most part, it's straight dialogue delivered from the front channels in a consistent, albeit not always intelligible manner.

Helen Mirren discusses playing Elizabeth II in "The Making of 'The Queen.'" Split-screens and dramatic montage are employed for the DVD's Main Menu.


The lone video bonus, 19-minute "The Making of The Queen", takes an interview-based approach to the all-purpose featurette. Gladly, this means we're able to hear somewhat at length from cast and crew members,
including director Stephen Frears, writer Peter Morgan, production designer Alan MacDonald, and actors Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Sylvia Sims, and Alex Jennings. The piece is divided into uneven sections, which cover the challenges of portraying real people, the film's design, and the actual week being studied. Though not the most lively or accessible production document, there's nearly enough insight to sustain the extras component for those not keen on commentaries.

Those who do appreciate the commentary should be glad to find two feature-length tracks presented here. First, director Stephen Frears and writer Peter Morgan team up for a rather dry, stuffy, and sporadic discussion of their film. There are a number of revelations, such as the fact they deliberately bounced from 16mm to 35mm film formats to emphasize contrast between Blair and the Queen and the confession that neither was in England during the week in question. But there aren't nearly as many juicy tidbits as you'd expect. Instead, the track features second-guessing, nitpicking, and mention of absent deleted scenes. The downbeat duo also point out all the jokes, cite anomalies they've been taken to task for, and, most interestingly, deconstruct how the movie plays differently to audiences around the globe.

The second audio commentary lets British historian and royal expert Robert Lacey (author of Majesty and the film's historical consultant) fly solo. His is a more enjoyable discussion. Well-prepared, plenty informative, and easy to listen to, Lacey vouches thoroughly for the movie's authenticity. Rather than just saying "this is true" ad nauseam, he elaborates, highlighting details and subtleties of scenes and what they illustrate about the real-life counterparts. Not content to always agree, Lacey disputes certain depictions and points out when something is what the press release calls "informed imagination."

In a nifty break from tradition, subtitles are offered for both of these commentaries, identifying speakers in the shared track and even clarifying air-filling film dialogue that might not have been otherwise discernible.

The active main menu offers dramatic instrumentation and a rotating split-screen of character clips. Pre-menu previews promote Miramax Films (with looks at the studio's highlights and its latest/upcoming releases), Ratatouille, Becoming Jane, "Kyle XY": The Complete First Season, and not pirating DVDs. The Sneak Peeks menu holds all of these (save for the anti-piracy spot) plus promos for SOAP Net and Deja Vu.

The head of government kneels before the head of state in their awkward first exchange. While on holiday at Scotland's Balmoral Castle, the Queen sees a stag being stalked. This memorable, change-of-heart scene was shown during this year's Oscars award ceremony.


The Queen delivers an enthralling, behind-the-scenes look at England's two extremely different leaders -- the stuffy, private Elizabeth II and the down-to-earth Prime Minister -- and finds drama in the aftermath of one of last decade's most public and affecting tragedies. Though ultimately her traditional point of view gains sympathy, the titular monarch is criticized for much of the first half, but gladly this much-acclaimed film values its captivating tale of clashing human personalities over any kind of polarizing political commentary. Presented as a convincingly accurate docudrama, The Queen manages to engage and fascinate viewers, regardless of interest, knowledge, and location.

Miramax's DVD treats the film well, with a sufficient feature presentation, an insightful interview-driven featurette, and two audio commentaries. Offering a revealing comparison of the film's depictions with actual British government, the historian's commentary is an especially nice inclusion. While neither the film nor the DVD moves me enough to give full marks, it's safe to say that if you think you might enjoy this movie, you almost certainly will.

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Reviewed April 13, 2007.