The Queen is all about Helen Mirren’s performance. All of the buzz I heard leading up to the Oscars was about Mirren’s remarkable turn as the queen bee herself, Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, and rightfully so.
The film presents an intimate perspective on the royal family during the week of Diana’s death. Despite her majesty’s very public persona, she is actually a very private person, bound to tradition. She’s at odds with new prime minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen, Blood Diamond), who…s her opposite in many ways – modern and image conscious in a political world that’s drastically changed since the Queen took power. The British people, in shock and mourning for their “people’s princess,” look to their leaders to recognize the traumatic event of Diana’s death. The Queen, however, fully intends to keep it a private, family matter, and spurns Blair’s suggestions to make public statements and to hold a royal funeral. Unfortunately for her majesty, her family’s inaction doesn’t play well with her people, and the royals become the subject of media scorn. Essentially, this is a story about one of the greatest public tragedies in recent history, and how it was handled by those in power, behind the scenes.
I won’t argue with any critical praise bestowed on Helen Mirren (Gosford Park), as she did an incredible job with this role. I’m not that familiar with the real queen, but I felt for every second of Mirren’s screen time that she was that character, no question. Having heard all of that buzz about this one, I wasn’t surprised in the least.
What did surprise me, however, was that the film didn’t bore me to sleep. Honestly, I avoided this one until just days before the Academy Awards, as I fully assume I’d be snoring in my seat. Not so. While I wasn’t exactly spellbound, a word many critics have used about The Queen, I did find the film very interesting. It has a documentary feel, as if we’re really watching what went on in the privacy of the royal family’s estate.
Also surprising is that the film is funny. Not laugh-out-loud guffaw funny, but smirking, amused funny, right from the start. The film opens with Mirren sitting for a portrait, discussing politics with the painter, and after saying that just once, she’d like to be completely partisan, she turns directly the camera, raising one eyebrow just as the title pops up on screen. It’s a small thing that sets a humorous tone for the entire film. It’s not strong or overpowering, but it’s always there, weaving along with the family and political drama.
So, how’s the DVD?
The Queen is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen format. The film looks more like a TV movie than a theatrical presentation, but the picture quality is still quite good. The color palette here is fairly subdued, but overall natural in appearance. The picture is sharp and clean throughout, and there are no compression issues with the transfer. Not bad at all.
Menus are animated, and scored.
English audio is Dolby Digital 5.1, and it does the job. There certainly isn’t a lot going on here, as the film is very much dialogue driven. However, the surround channels do get some use when appropriate, such as in some of the outdoor crowd scenes, or for directional effect throughout. All sounds clear and pleasing, which is about all we can hope for.
Audio is also offered in Spanish in Dolby Digital 2.0, with Spanish subtitles available as well.
The Queen doesn’t raid the treasury for these extras, but what we have is better than nothing. There’s a making-of featurette, appropriately titled The Making of The Queen, and two audio commentaries.
The making-of piece is comprised of your usual interviews with cast and crew. There’s not much depth to this featurette, with perhaps the most interesting part being Mirren’s discussion of her preparation for the role. It’s worth a look, but only just.
The first commentary track is by director Stephen Frears (Mrs. Henderson Presents) and writer Peter Morgan (The Last King of Scotland). The pair offers some interesting insight on the production, but they’re a bit too dry overall.
The second commentary features historian and royal expert Robert Lacey, the author of Majesty. Lacey sure knows his stuff, so be prepared for some potentially interesting commentary. Of course, it all depends on your interest in the royal family.
Rounding out the special features are the film’s theatrical trailer and a production photo gallery.
The Queen is an interesting family drama that plays out with surprising humor. With excellent performances, particularly by Mirren, it’s certainly worth a rental. Considering the sparse special features, only big fans should consider buying this DVD.
Special Features List
- The Making of The Queen
- Two audio commentaries
- Theatrical trailer