"I’d be devastated if the Queen feels that I’ve betrayed her in my portrayal of her," Dame Helen Mirren told the BBC on 1 September,2006 . Made a Dame in 2003, she was speaking about her portrayal of The Queen in Stephen Frears’ film of the same name, which has already been tipped for an Oscar nomination, even before its premiere at the Venice Film Festival. According to the BBC, the film “depicts the efforts of Tony Blair to prevent the Queen from committing a public-relations disaster in the days following the death of Princess Diana in 1997.”
“It was the biggest crisis for the monarchy since the Abdication some forty years earlier. Headlines at the time screamed out ‘Where is our Queen?’ and ‘Show us you care’, “ insists the BBC. Actually, and as the BBC would know, those headlines signalled attempts by those media to draw the public’s attention away from the appalling ways in which they had intruded into the private life of the Princess, how they harassed her and how they were ready to turn on her and bring her down.
Early reports of the film indicate that much of it is depends on dialogue which is not factual but based on hearsay, spin and rumour, written by people who were not present. After all who knows what the Prime Minister said to The Queen? That is confidential, and it is not claimed that either is talking. While we are used to this when a film is about events long ago, it is only recently that those alive today, and who are not notorious for some criminal reason, are so treated. The American Kitty Kelley, relying on the repeal of all effective defamation laws by the US Supreme Court on spurious constitutional grounds has made a career in presenting rumour and gossip about living people as established fact. This has been extended to film, and now, I fear, even films about the Royal Family. It is assumed that although English defamation law is strict, the Royal Family does not normally sue.
I may be wrong about the film , and I hope I am. But recent press reports from the UK suggest that the story, with what Dame Helen describes as a “dream script”, will portray members of the Royal Family as fearful, divided and out-of –touch. The source is probably some spin doctors wanting to big-note their political masters and themselves .
Just remember how Richard Butler and some journalists tried to put words into The Queen’s mouth over the 1999 referendum result. As we mentioned in this column on 24 April, 2006 , on the very night of the referendum, the Canadian commentator syndicated around the world, Mark Steyn, actually happened to be dining at Buckingham Palace. As “the only journalist on the planet within six feet of a royal facial expression that day,” he says with complete authority “ I can exclusively reveal that I haven’t the foggiest as to the Queen’s or the Duke of Edinburgh’s feelings.”
Neither does anyone else, including film script writers. And that is how it should be.