Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Queen (2006)

For ready-made award bait, this ain't so bad. It derives its strength mainly from the tumultuous interplay between Queen Elizabeth II and PM Tony Blair, and while Helen Mirren's been gathering accolades and awards by the barrel (deservedly so), it's Michael Sheen as Blair that proves to be the linchpin of the film for me. Forever poised between respect and incredulity, Sheen lets us sympathize with Blair's unenviable position while also serving as our gateway into the film's world. He's our gee-shucks audience surrogate, and he acquits himself admirably. (It probably helps that this isn't the first time Sheen has essayed Blair -- he, director Stephen Frears and writer Peter Morgan previously collaborated on The Deal.) The uneven screenplay is the major weakness here. In its best parts, it depicts the royalty and the changing world from which they're insulated with even-handedness, droll humor and a sharp forthrightness; in its worst parts, it either lets James Cromwell peevishly natter on about tradition or infuses way too much clumsy symbolism into a giant buck. (The scene where Mirren comes face to face with the animal is on my shortlist of the year's dumbest scenes.) But this is a performance-driven film, and in that it's a success.

Grade: B-


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