Cinemalphabet: Q is for The Queen (2006)
On that fateful August day in 1997 I was in the throes of something now known as, “The Summer I didn’t talk.” Not talking had not been brought about by any traumatic singular event; but rather defeat by a million emotional paper cuts, which I smartly opted to channel into a fierce writing summer and deep soul searching. By day I worked a modest job, which brought me a surprisingly amount of satisfaction. By night I wrote on a tiny computer in a sliver of a space in a rooming house, which I’d only rented due to its glorious proximity to Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade, despite the space perpetually smelling like the Jack-in-the-Box restaurant that shared a foundation wall with the rooming house. The only two occasions where I remember having extended conversations with anyone were when I saw Men in Black with La Mommie who was in town visiting and the day Princess Diana was killed in a terrible car accident.
Even in far away Southern California, the events unfolding in the that Parisian tunnel demanded rapt attention. My Margot Tenenbaum TV, which normally squawked incessantly with Tom Berenger films, late night talk shows and infomercials, could only talk about one thing; the death of the Princess of Wales. My small life seemed to shrink even smaller, packaged in such a way allowing only thoughtful responses to frequently posed question, “Can you believe this?” Sure I can romanticize the era now; with hindsight it’s clear what I lost was minimal compared to all that I gained. Yet, upon The Queen‘s release I wasn’t especially eager to rush out to screen the film for fear the faithful rendering of events would transport me back to a point in my life where other people’s tragedies were by default my own, given there was no way to escape from the details unless one dug a hole and crawled into it.
The Queen eschews sensationalism in favor of an intimate portrayal of two dramatically different women – Princess Diana and Queen Elizabeth II – with surprising effectiveness. I didn’t know what to expect, but found myself pleasantly surprised by the tone – restrained, with a dash of cheek – and framework on the film. La Mirren more than merely approximating the Queen – at least what the audience is told – but also packed her portrayal with so much nuance and humanity that I couldn’t help but reevaluate my own assumptions. Like why had I assumed the Queen should be out in front on this event when a) Princess Di wasn’t even a royal anymore and b) there were survivors who needed care and comfort more than the grieving populace. It’s always wonderful when a film challenges my flawed assumptions without demonizing me for having them in the first place.