Published on February 6th, 2007 | by Hans Fruck0
Some say lack of comprehension is my defining characteristic. And sometimes I tend to agree with the malicious fuckers. But not this time. This time I’m the only sane man in a world gone crazy. I don’t know what’s come over the world’s film critics — what strange ailment has warped their critical faculties — but the truth in this matter is, or should be, incontrovertible: The Queen is NOT a good film.
And while I’m sermonising from the Mount in this fashion, let me clear up some other misconceptions: there was no gunman on the grassy knoll, Lara Bingle is not attractive, and John Howard is not a friend to “battlers”.
There. Did I just rock your world? (Ahhhhhhhhh, it’s been a while since I’ve sipped from the Chalice of Power like that. Let me luxuriate for a second in its citrusy carbonated flavour.)
Back to the subject at hand… The Queen has earned universal praise (Metacritic scores it at 91.) Not just lukewarm praise, mind you. Orgasmic praise. So much so that critics must have fought mightily to curb sex faces and rampant pelvic thrusting as they typed up their reviews. Well, fortunately I’m not intimidated by learning, reputation, and circulation (or pelvic thrusting).
When swimming against the tide like this, my esteemed associate Vincent Blackshadow always invokes the proverbial “fly-to-shit ratio”. The finer details of this ratio remain a mystery to me, but I’m pretty sure I grasp the main principle, namely numbers aren’t the best measure of quality. If they were, Nickelback would be a great band, Independence Day a great film, and George Bush a competent elected official. Conclusion: reviews of The Queen aren’t worth the pixels they’re written with.*
The Queen, directed by Stephen Frears, depicts the weeks between Tony Blair first taking office in Britain and Princess Diana’s funeral. The dramatic power of this story is, allegedly, in the contrast between the modernising middle-class (“Just call me Tony”) prime minister and the hidebound tradition and introspection of a royal family utterly out of touch with reality.
In the aftermath of Diana’s death, the mourning British public wait in vain for a response from the royal family. They don’t get one, and it angers them. The queen is confident that she knows the British people, and that they share her stiff-upper-lip stoicism. She’s wrong, of course, and totally unprepared for the umseemly public grieving following Diana’s death. Blair, who accurately gauges public sentiment, counsels the queen but is ignored.
The film proceeds via contrasts between Blair and the queen. He’s informal, middle class, one of the people, modern, and emotionally responsive. She’s formal, the queen, insulated from the people, traditional, and undemonstrative. The difference between the two is best demonstrated by their living arrangements. The Blairs live in a normal middle-class home, cluttered with books and mod-cons. The queen, of course, lives in Balmoral and Buckingham palaces amid astonishing wealth and battalions of servants and functionaries.
Unfortunately, the contrast between Blair’s inner circle and the royal family never gains traction. That’s because, apart from the queen herself, none of the characters in this film seem real. Prince Charles is a craven weasel and Prince Phillip a belligerent moron who thinks that the best thing for two boys who have lost their mother is to take them hunting. Maybe Charles really is a weasel and Phillip a moron, who knows? Point is, in this film they’re not believably weasely or moronic.
The film, astonishingly nominated for a best screenplay Oscar, stumbles its way through reams of exposition. Blair and his advisors are constantly fulminating about how out-of-touch the royal family is. It’s as if Peter Morgan, the scriptwriter, doesn’t trust the audience to interpret the action. Instead he has Blair, his wife, or his speechwriter give a thinly veiled commentary on every twist and turn. It’s insulting, it’s clumsy, and it’s phony. And it’s little wonder the characters feel so fake given the explanatory dialogue they’re saddled with.
The film’s solitary asset is Helen Mirren. She impersonates Elizabeth expertly and even finds time for some acting. Otherwise the acting, and everything else about the film, is undistinguished.
The Queen is nothing more than a middling telemovie. Neither it nor its fellow Oscar contender Babel remotely deserve the extravagant praise that’s been heaped on them. In the case of Babel I can at least see why people mistake it for a good film. I can’t even say that about The Queen. Fortunately for the movie-going public** some reviewers are strong and principled enough to fight the groupthink that pervades the critical reception of these films.
Ahem. My name is Hans Sebastian Fruck. And I’ll be your guide tonight.
*Obviously, this only applies to reviews written by critics who are not me.
**The two of you who read this site, anyway.