Celebrating Elizabeth II – How The Queen shows off her finest qualities
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will be the focus of a weekend celebration for the commemorative Official Birthday. The United Kingdom’s longest-reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth has been a figurehead through a number of critical moments, so it is only right that we acknowledge her success. But what is it about Queen Elizabeth that makes her so beloved?
Despite the success of The Crown, I believe that Stephen Frears’ The Queen holds the answer as a definitive cinematic explanation of her finest qualities and her understandable flaws. It achieves this by showing us Queen Elizabeth at her most vulnerable: faced with the fallout of the death of Diana and mixing with the views of the radical Prime Minister Tony Blair. Allow me to elaborate.
She’s only human
The aura that surrounds the Queen can often blind us to the fact that she’s still one of us, just one clothed in a lot of privilege and regalia. What’s clever in Frears’ portrayal is that it immediately highlights this for the audience: as she’s posing for a royal painting, she expresses her desire to be able to vote for parliament, to be able to “be partial”, to have an opinion.
If we’re going to commemorate her, then we must admire the fact that despite being human, she is often forced by society, by public opinion or by the government to act on behalf of something she doesn’t believe or agree with, but does so with dignity and bravery, which the film illustrates brilliantly.
Irrespective of your opinion on the way the Royal Family handled Diana’s death, Queen Elizabeth wanted it kept private and was actively persuaded to go public with the mourning. The way Frears and Mirren portray this is by framing the film around this decision, leading up to the final scenes in which Elizabeth must face the people by acknowledging the public’s grief and visiting Diana’s floral memorial outside Buckingham Palace. Cutting from the Queen’s face to images of cards that read ‘You deserved better than them’, Mirren exposes a vulnerability in Queen Elizabeth for the briefest of moments, until she returns to maintaining a steady smile in front of the crowds.
Certainly, Queen Elizabeth’s monarchical perspective might have been flawed, her decision-making questionable. That’s for not for me to judge. But if one were to read the Queen’s actions as those of a human being, to look at her as an equal, I think we should admire the way that she presents herself in trying times. As Blair exclaims in one scene:
“That woman has given her whole life in service to her people. Fifty years doing a job she never wanted. A job she watched kill her father. She’s executed it with honour, dignity and without a single blemish...’
Out with the old, in with the new
In spite of Blair’s defence of Queen Elizabeth in that speech, it’s the dichotomy of the two of them that helps to shape our perspective of The Queen as a woman that’s having to accept a major change to everything that she knows.
It’s the age-old dichotomy: tradition vs radicalism. Blair ushered in a new age of politics that the Queen had to adapt to. We see this in the film as her means of handling the Diana tragedy are constantly questioned, Blair advising that Elizabeth give a statement or deliver a live broadcast comforting the public. While the monarchy cannot make executive decisions, the film still manages to communicate a sense of loss. The Queen is, as Blair states, in our service and it’s easy to forget this.
It all comes down to a key scene where Elizabeth and Blair have a conversation over the phone. As Blair suggests that Elizabeth come to London, Mirren communicates agitation as she straightens some pens on a table almost compulsively. Finally, she snaps, as she says:
“I doubt there is anyone that knows the British people more than I do Mr. Blair, nor who has greater faith in their wisdom and judgement. It is my belief that at any moment, they will reject this mood that is being stirred up by the press, in favour of a period of restrained grief and sober private mourning. That’s the way we do things in this country. Quietly, with dignity.”
The fact that the final scene proves this point right, showing a crowd that silently watches the Queen peruse through the various messages at Diana’s memorial, is testament to Elizabeth’s understanding of us and is Frears’ way of communicating his belief that Elizabeth is one with us. I think this is why she is so beloved even to this day. We feel that, rightly or wrongly, she belongs to us as the figurehead of British culture, as opposed to our leader as the monarch once was. This makes her all the more important and powerful. And this is why we will celebrate her this Saturday.
How are you celebrating the Queen's birthday? Do you have another portrayal that you prefer? Drop some feedback and let me know!
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