I did something a little different on Tuesday and reviewed (if you can call it that) the most recent season of The Crown instead of a film. As you know, I like to try and tie my Tuesday review and TBT review together, so I had a couple of choices for what to watch today. It was between this or The Iron Lady. I’ve not actually seen the whole of The Iron Lady because I got bored quite quickly. Also, I remained unconvinced that Phyllida Lloyd should be allowed to direct films. I guess that meant that I should probably have watched Meryl Streep take on the role that Gillian Anderson made unnecessarily sexy in The Crown. However, I really couldn’t face it. So, I went back to this 2006 film that I have seen before. It’s not a personal favourite but I, at least, knew that I could deal with it.
In my Tuesday post, I admitted that one of the major reasons for watching The Crown in the first place was because of Tobias Menzies’ face. I realise that this type of shallow reasoning is quite common because I’m pretty shameless. It is, of course, one of the reasons that I ended up watching Stephen Frears’ depiction of one of the biggest weeks in modern British history. When it came out, I was an 18-year-old who thought she was too cool to watch something like that. It was only a year or so later that I got round to it. I was a 20-ish year old who knew she had never been cool and was now hopelessly in love with Michael Sheen. I had to watch it.
It ended up being better than I expected. It also didn’t seem worth the huge praise that people seemed to be giving it but I certainly didn’t regret watching it. Helen Mirren was, as expected, superb as the matriarch and Michael Sheen did a great job playing Tony Blair again. Following on from Frear’s TV play The Deal, this was a younger and ore naive Blair. Something Sheen nails to an extent that I cringe almost every time he’s on screen. Certainly not something that normally happens. Although, it’s weird revisting Mirren’s Queen Elizabeth II after seeing The Crown. She no longer looks as good. It does make you realise how good the casting and everything has been in the series.
Still, she gets the stature and the personality across This is a film that isn’t afraid to criticise the monarch for her actions. It doesn’t take a very obviously anti-monarchy stance but there is definitely evidence that incorrect choices were made. Although, it is not a wholly unsympathetic portrayal. It goes some way to try to defend her actions and attempt to show the humanity beneath the stoic exterior. It also doesn’t forget to show the way that New Labour leapt on the event for their own purpose. How the new Prime Minister took every chance he could to undermine the royal family and take the glory. Rather than being an attack on the Queen herself, this is a film that questions the establishment itself and the rules that made everything so difficult.
Frears is clever in his depiction of these real-life events and was wise to only show Diana through news reports and clips. It was a wise choice. Not least because, less than 10 years after her death, no actor would have been seen to do her justice. The fact that she never fully appears on screen doesn’t stop the princess from haunting the story. She is felt throughout and the film does a decent job of capturing a nation’s grief.
Although, this should not be mistaken for a film about Diana. This is a story about a Queen and her Prime Minister. There is a bizarre rom-com feel to it all. We see Blair fumbling when they first meet as the Queen sits opposite him stony faced. As Cherie Blair herself says all Labour Prime Ministers “go ga-ga” for her Maj. You can see Blair fall slowly under her spell despite his constant disagreement and exacerbation. It’s an odd mix of tragedy, comedy, and lightness. Does it work? I’m still not entirely convinced but, with two strong leads, it’s worth a watch.