The Queen

Year: 2006
Production Co: Scott Rudin Productions
Director: Stephen Frears
Producer: Scott Rudin
Cast: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell
Here's the thing about most acting (and actors) ; they look for their marks on the floor and they play themselves. The only time Jack Nicholson hasn't played a variation on the same devilish alpha male in the last 20 years was in About Schmidt. Tom Cruise has played himself in every film apart from Interview With the Vampire and Magnolia.

Acting is about inhabiting a character, and there's far less demand for it than there are movies being made to fill it up with.

Helen Mirren - as the film scribe immortalised – is Queen Elizabeth the Second. James Cromwell is a great actor and plays Prince Philip as well as I've seen an actor play a modern British royal. Michael Sheen is fantastic as Tony Blair, capturing the heightened mood, optimism and Cool Britannia mood of his election victory and early rule.

But it's Mirren as she turns the icy stare on you during the titles that sends shivers down your spine; not just of a woman who so looks like, sounds like and puts herself in The Queen's shoes, but of a woman who had unimaginable power thrust on her as a child and has had 60 years to accustom herself to what many still believe is divine providence.

You wouldn't try to stare down a woman who's had so long practising being a modern monarch. With her poise, grace and presence it'd be impossible to rattle her, as the newly-elected Prime Minister discovers, seeming like a naughty schoolboy sent to talk to the matronly headmistress rather than the political leader of one of the most vibrant democracies in the Western world.

Mirren captures it all so effortlessly. Ironically, such stoic calm did almost bring her undone, and The Queen tells the story of how. In the time immediately following Diana's 1997 death, Blair thinks Elizabeth should connect with her people by way of a public statement, rather than holed up at Balmoral treating the matter with silence to respect the Spencer family's wishes about a private funeral.

The loggerheads of the two are fascinating, but the film goes much further and much subtler than simply seeing sparks fly. The Royal camp questions itself, but never descends into American-style populism. And Blair, riding the crest of a wave of being young and cool, turns out to be one of the most loyal defenders of what many see as a crumbling institution. We're left with a distinct taste that the Royals are people too and have little but their instincts and the considerable tradition of their office to guide them, and New British could do much worse than to reserve some respect for what they have to do.

As Elizabeth points out to Blair, despite having his finger on the pulse of a much hipper United Kingdom, few know the British people as well as she.

A brilliant story well told, with odd flashes of humour, grace and drama, none of which are out of place and all delivered by at least one of the best actors alive today.

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