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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Roger Ebert and The Queen

You may have noticed that when I post something about a movie and quote a movie reviewer, the person I most often use is Roger Ebert. There may be film critics more well known but I've grown to respect and like Ebert's way of looking at the movies, and though I don't always agree with him, I know where I stand with him - if I read one of his reviews, I have a good idea of whether I'll like a movie or not, whether I should like it or not :-)

Sadly, I've missed the benefit of his reviews these past few months , when h'e been so ill. But things are looking up for Ebert and for those who like his work - he has just recently written his first movie review for the Chicago Sun-Times since his illness began ... it's of the film, The Queen.

Below I've posted a little about Ebert from Wikipedia and under that, bits from his review of The Queen.

Roger Joseph Ebert (born June 18, 1942) is an Emmy Award-nominated American television personality, author, and film critic who began writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, every week since 1967 ... He is also the co-host of a syndicated television program featuring his film criticism, first for 23 years with Gene Siskel and, since Siskel's death, with Richard Roeper on Ebert & Roeper. He has written more than 15 books, including his annual movie yearbook. In 1975, he became the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism ...

He underwent surgery Friday, June 16, 2006, just two days before his 64th birthday, to remove cancer near his right jaw, including a section of jaw bone. On July 1, Ebert was hospitalized in serious condition after an artery burst near the surgery site; he later discovered that the burst was likely a side-effect of his treatment, which involved neutron beam radiation. He has told his fans that it is a search for ways to prevent future arterial bursts that has kept him bed-ridden ....

An update from Ebert on October 11 confirmed his bleeding problems have been resolved. He was receiving rehabilitation care at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago to regain muscle strength lost during his convalescence. Ebert stated he planned to fully resume work early in 2007, and to hold his annual Overlooked Film Festival as scheduled. He returned to the Chicago Sun-Times with his October 13 review of The Queen, but has not resumed his television work ...

Below's a part of the review. Read the whole thing here at Ebert's website.


The opening shots of Stephen Frears' "The Queen" simply show Helen Mirren's face as her character prepares for it to be seen. She is Queen Elizabeth II, and we know that at once. The resemblance is not merely physical, but embodies the very nature of the Elizabeth we have grown up with -- a private woman who takes her public role with great gravity.

Elizabeth is preparing to meet Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), the new Labor prime minister who has just been elected in a landslide. We see Blair preparing for the same meeting. His election was a fundamental upheaval of British political life after Thatcherism, and at that time, Britain stood on a threshold of uncertain but possibly tumultuous change.

Within months, the queen and Blair find themselves in a crisis that involves not politics but a personal tragedy that was completely unforeseen -- the death of Diana, princess of Wales, in a Paris car crash. "The Queen" tells the story of how her death with her boyfriend, the playboy department store heir Dodi Fayed, would threaten to shake the very monarchy itself.

Told in quiet scenes of proper behavior and guarded speech, "The Queen" is a spellbinding story of opposed passions -- of Elizabeth's icy resolve to keep the royal family separate and aloof from the death of the divorced Diana, who was legally no longer a royal, and of Blair's correct reading of the public mood, which demanded some sort of public expression of sympathy from the crown for "The People's Princess" ....

"The Queen" is told almost entirely in small scenes of personal conflict. It creates an uncanny sense that it knows what goes on backstage in the monarchy; in the movie, Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and the Queen Mother have settled into a sterile domesticity cocooned by servants and civil servants. It shows Tony and Cherie Blair (Helen McCrory) in their own bourgeois domestic environment. Both households, privately, are plain-spoken to the point of bluntness, and Cherie is more left wing than her husband, less instinctively awed by the monarchy, more inclined to dump the institution.

What Tony clearly sees is that the monarchy could be gravely harmed, if not toppled, by the Queen's insistence on sticking to protocol and not issuing a statement about Diana. The press demands that Elizabeth fly the flag at half-mast as a symbolic gesture at Buckingham Palace. Elizabeth stands firm. The palace will not acknowledge the death or sponsor the funeral.

"The Queen" comes down to the story of two strong women loyal to the doctrines of their beliefs about the monarchy, and a man who is much more pragmatic. The queen is correct, technically, in not lowering the flag to half-mast -- it is not a national flag, but her own, flown only when she is in residence. But Blair is correct that the flag has become a lightning rod for public opinion. The queen is correct, indeed, by tradition and history in all she says about the affair -- but she is sadly aloof from the national mood. Well, maybe queens should be ....

Stephen Frears, the director, has made several wonderful films about conflicts and harmonies in the British class system ("My Beautiful Laundrette," "Dirty Pretty Things," "Prick Up Your Ears"), and "The Queen," of course, represents the ultimate contrast. No one is more upper class than the queen, and Tony Blair is profoundly middle class.

The screenplay is intense, focused, literate, observant. The dynamic between Elizabeth and Philip (James Cromwell), for example, is almost entirely defined by decades of what has not been said between them -- and what need not be said. There are extraordinary, tantalizing glimpses of the "real" Elizabeth driving her own Range Rover, leading her dogs, trekking her lands at Balmoral -- the kind of woman, indeed, who seems more like Camilla Parker-Bowles than Diana.

Mirren is the key to it all in a performance sure to be nominated for an Oscar. She finds a way, even in a "behind the scenes" docudrama, to suggest that part of her character will always be behind the scenes. What a masterful performance, built on suggestion, implication and understatement. Her queen in the end authorizes the inevitable state funeral, but it is a tribute to Mirren that we have lingering doubts about whether, objectively, it was the right thing. Technically, the queen was right to consider the divorced Diana no longer deserving (by her own choice) of a royal funeral. But in terms of modern celebrity worship, Elizabeth was wrong. This may or may not represent progress.

- Helen Mirren as the Queen


Blogger Susan said...

I've been wanting to see this movie. I've also been wanting to give Queen Elizabeth a new hairdo.

8:49 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Susan ... hey want do you think about the movie The Fountain? Hugh Jackmanm and reincarnation - should be interesting :-)

12:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The one character not developed in the film was Diana herself.  While she remains the  icon of superficial popular culture, it was a very different Diana -- behind the facades of glamour and pseudo-compassion -- whom the Royal family knew personally.

Both Diana and her brother, Charles Spencer, suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder caused by their mother's abandoning them as young children.  A google search reveals that Diana is considered a case study in BPD by mental health professionals.

For Charles Spencer, BPD meant insatiable sexual promiscuity (his wife was divorcing him at the time of Diana's death). For Diana, BPD meant intense insecurity and insatiable need for attention and affection which even the best husband could never fulfill. 

From a BPD perspective, it's clear that the Royal family did not cause her "problems". Rather, she brought her multiple issues into the marriage, and the Royal family was hapless to deal with them.

Her illness, untreated, sowed the seeds of her fast and unstable lifestyle, and sadly, her tragic fate.

12:22 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Thanks for the comment. I haven't read much about Diana or the Royla Family. Diana's certainly not alone in being the victim of personality problems ... many people have to deal with weird or disfunctional childhoods (me included) and we don't alwys get adequate help, not even with it are we always able to fit into the slot of "normality".

1:01 PM  

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