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.
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.