Thursday, November 30, 2006

Cinema....La Reina (The Queen)

I went to see The Queen last Sunday. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud to be a republican but you have to be able to say or write a phrase like this at least once in your life. So there is my excuse for posting about a British film, that and the fact that I am off to inspect the homeland this weekend. The story told by this film, directed by Stephen Frears, is familiar to anyone who can recall the events following the death of Princess Diana in 1997. It is an account of a royal family resolutely determined to ignore the death of someone who was no longer considered a part of that family, and hiding behind a façade of protocol as they continued their summer holiday in Balmoral. Meanwhile, a newly elected government led by Tony Blair demonstrated a much keener awareness of events and deft political touch as the still fresh spin doctors quickly moulded the image of “the people’s princess”.

Eventually, the Queen is forced to recognise that something has to give as a “public opinion” spurred on by the press makes it clear that aloofness is not the expected response. The pile of flowers at the entrance to Buckingham Palace gets ever bigger, and the empty flagpole on the palace becomes a symbol of royal indifference. Back in Scotland Prince Philip decides that the best solution for the newly bereaved sons of the late Diana is to take them out to shoot deer.

This is a film that impresses most of all for the strength of its performances. Helen Mirren is excellent as the Queen, and Michael Sheen demonstrates that he has studied the mannerisms of Tony Blair down to the finest detail. He even gets that look of momentary panic that crosses Blair’s face occasionally when somebody responds to him in a way he doesn’t expect to happen. Most of the character acting is very believable, whether or not what they do or say actually corresponds with reality. We have Prince Philip (James Cromwell) showing a customary disdain for detail of any kind as he gets on with his not very busy life, and a typically hand-wringing and agonising Prince Charles (Alex Jennings), who gets surprisingly favourable treatment in the film. The Queen Mother (Sylvia Syms) gets away without being portrayed as the gin soaked Nazi that semi-reliable sources always assured us that she was. For some reason we are missing Princess Anne, not that it makes a great deal of difference to anything.

I liked the film, but if I have a problem with it is that in the end it lets everyone off the hook; we are invited to admire Blair for his political agility in handling the situation (rather than seeing the opportunism that was involved), and the Queen for the dignified way in which she responds to the pressure to change direction. I’m not convinced that the gulf between the “modernising” Blair government and the stuffiness of the royal family is actually as great as is shown here, any more than I believe that Blair was ever particularly sceptical about royalty. There is one great moment in the film when Mirren’s Queen reminds Blair that what has happened to her could also happen to him; I have always believed that much of his initial self-confidence over taking Britain into the Iraq war comes from that moment when he believed he was speaking for the people about the death of Diana. The belief that he could convince the public of his case on anything was probably born in September 1997.

It was a curious period, I was already living in Spain at the time and I have to admit, even though I have no liking for him, that I had a few Prince Philip moments as I turned on the TV to see yet another 6 hour special on the life of the person known here as “Laddy Dee”. I never bought the idea that the outpouring of grief for Diana was about the English finding their emotional side, to me it always seemed to be much more a reflection of the cult of celebrity. Before Diana died she was a figure of fun for so many, those carefully arranged interviews on television and the awful stunt of turning up in the middle of someone’s heart operation for the photo.

A few months after Diana’s death, I was working for a while in Jakarta. One evening, as I relaxed with what was almost certainly a well deserved beer, a group of Indonesian students selected me for a bit of English practice. After chatting for a while, the leader of the group (who was virtually the only one saying anything in English) said something along the lines of “Mr Graeme, I want you to know that when our class heard about the death of Princess Diana we all cried”. These were not school kids, they were of university age and they live on the other side of the planet. I didn’t know what to say, my immediate temptation was to reply “Why?”, but keeping things polite I think I just opted for a bland “Oh, did you?” and then changed the subject to something else. Still, the film is definitely worth seeing, I’m not aware of anything remotely similar about the Spanish royal family.

1 comment:

redtown said...

The one character not developed in this film was that of Diana herself. The "people's princess" remains the icon of superficial popular culture.  But the Royal family knew a very different character -- the one behind the facades of glamour and pseudo-compassion.

Both Diana and her brother, Charles Spencer, suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder caused by their mother's abandoning them as young children.  A google search reveals that Diana is considered a case study in BPD by mental health professionals.

For Charles Spencer, BPD meant insatiable sexual promiscuity (his wife was divorcing him at the time of Diana's death). For Diana, BPD meant intense insecurity and insatiable need for attention and affection which even the best husband could never fulfill. 

Clinically, it's clear that the Royal family did not cause her "problems". Rather, Diana brought her multiple issues into the marriage, and the Royal family was hapless to deal with them.

Her illness, untreated, sowed the seeds of her fast and unstable lifestyle, and sadly, her tragic fate.