Readers may recall that my first columns on the film The Queen were suspicious if not hostile. (Links to previous columns were posted here on 27 January, 2006) But having now seen it, I have to say the film is superb, principally because of the actress Dame Helen Mlrren. (I decline to call the ladies of the stage and screen ‘actors’. How could you possibly tell a story beginning “As the bishop said to the actor…”?) What Dame Helen achieves is that she captures the heroic sense of duty that is central to The Queen’s character. Now Geoffrey Levy and Richard Kay, writing in the Sydney Daily Telegraph of 27 January 2007 say that “Dame Helen’s portrayal of Elizabeth II has made the monarch more loved than ever”. They ominously report, that wasn’t the intention, which confirms to me that my republican radar is in first rate condition.
It was not any malevolence on the part of Dame Helen who, when she received her Golden Globe award, said in what the reporters call “ a dazzling moment of personal modesty,”: "At the age of 25, in 1952, Elizabeth II walked into literally the role of a lifetime, and I honestly think this award belongs to her because I think you fell in love with her, not with me. I just tried to make her as true to life as possible". They say this was an “astonishing compliment from a plain-speaking actress who has never hidden her republican tendencies”. The crucial phrase in Mirren’s words, they say, was "true to life."
But another Golden Globe winner, the film’s script writer, Peter Morgan has admitted he did not set out to make cinema audiences warm towards the Sovereign. In fact, his intention was precisely the opposite. "As far as I am aware, I wrote about a cold, emotionally detached, haughty, difficult, prickly, private, uncommunicative, out-of-touch bigot".
So why do audiences fall in love with The Queen? Morgan says "because they think it was written with compassion and integrity, rather than being a hatchet job". The reporters say others see something else, and I agree. Dame Helen’s portrayal of the Queen is “so real that millions have been leaving cinemas all over the world feeling they understand the Queen in a way they never did before, and appreciating why she behaved as she did during the week of Diana’s death”. As I said, it is the way The Queen’s heroic sense of duty is captured that conquers all. And of course, that is The Queen. What I find surprising is that for so long, some well known columnists and other members of our elite intelligentsia could not see this and would launch into personal attacks on The Queen. Her service these 55 years has been impeccable.