Idol Chatter

In one of the most subtle yet daring movies of the year, director Stephen Frears (“Dangerous Liasons,” ‘The Grifters”) examines the death of Princess Diana with a unique and thoughtful prespective in his drama “The Queen.” There’s no conspiracy theories and no move-of-the-week, soap-opera treatment of the iconic Diana here, just a razor-sharp reflection on the the institution of the royal family–particularly Queen Elizabeth II–the power of the media, and the need for idol worship in our celebrity-obsessed society.

The entire movie takes place during the week after Princess Diana’s untimely death in a car crash in Paris and before her public funeral several days later. Queen Elizabeth’s initial instinct is to have the family retreat to Balmoral Castle so they can deal with her death privately. The only problem is that her subjects–the distraught citizens of Great Britain–want the Queen (played superbly by Helen Mirren) to honor Diana publicly. As global media coverage of the public grief over Diana’s death intensifies, the newly appointed Prime Minister Tony Blair becomes involved, helping to persuade the Windsor dynasty to change public preceptions that the royals are unfeeling, out-of-touch, and perhaps unnecessary to the future of the United Kingdom.

Such plot details may not sound fit for anything other than an average History Channel documentary, but what Frears does so brilliantly is dissect events to show how people in power deserve to be judged–and also that they deserve to be granted a moment of grace now and then. Over and over again, he cleverly illustrates that everyone who knew Diana was in some way complicit in the way Diana was revered in society as well in the way that she tragically died.

It is not without a touch of prophetic irony that Tony Blair is portrayed as somewhat of a hero in this tale–someone with huge public popularity and a talent for speaking to the “commoners.” In fact, Frears shows Blair foreshadowing his own current unpopularity in Britain (in part because of his support of President Bush and the Iraq war) when he tells the Queen that what is happening to her in the press will undoubtedly happen to him one day as well.

And then there is the cinematic imagery of the stag that the Windsor family stalks while staying at Balomoral Castle. The way they ruthlessly hunt this animal as a distraction–only to have it killed by a stranger instead–smacks of a huge metaphor for the way they treated Diana while the papparazzi ruthlessly tracked her every move and played a hand in her demise.

Even the weeping throngs of people keeping vigil outside of Buckingham Palace seem to be eyed with a bit of disdain through the lens of Frears’ camera, because they are blind to Diana’s faults, and blind to the fact that their idol worship of Diana created the demand for the constant media coverage of her every move.

“The Queen” will surely rack up some Oscar and Golden Globe Awards during the upcomng red carpet season, and it has now firmly landed as one of the leading candidates for my Top Ten List for 2006.

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