Monday, December 24, 2007


Recently I watched "The Queen", an engaging film that was grounded by the strong, measured performance of Helen Mirren, who was awarded the Oscar for her efforts. The film's subject matter gave it a certain made-for-TV quality; nonetheless, I'd argue that it deserved the big-screen treatment, given how imperiled the monarchy was in the days following Diana's death as well as the larger questions raised by the film -- namely, what place does a monarchy have in a modern, democraticized society?

I found myself, by the time the movie ended, feeling a bit sorry for Queen Elizabeth II, grasping for the proper role to play in modern British life, duty-bound to defend the very traditions that were alienating her from her people. The film was far less sympathetic to her husband, Prince Philip, who was portrayed as arrogant and unfeeling, giving Elizabeth disasterous advice that furthered her isolation. (The late Queen Mother wasn't much of a help either.) Prince Charles came off as somewhat sniveling, wanting to do the right thing by his children and his ex-wife but unable to stand up to his mother and father.

Tony Blair was the hero, the man whose public statements about Diana struck just the right chord and who finally succeeded in convincing the queen to grieve as her subjects wanted. There was something sad about recalling the heady, early days of Blair's tenure as prime minister, given how it ended. Shortly before the film's end, in a meeting a couple of months after Diana's death, Elizabeth warns Blair that the press and the British people might just as easily turn on him someday too.

It's possible that the queen really did say that to Blair. After all, her reign had witnessed nine prime ministers before him, and she had no doubt learned how suddenly political lives can end. But it's hard not to think that the filmmakers threw in that line as a post-script to Blair's career. Blair was there to save the queen from herself. Too bad no one did the same for Blair.

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