With Shirley I watched the much-appraised The Queen yesterday. While I must admit that it was slightly disappointing due to high expectations, it was by all means a great film with an excellent sense and judgment in the well-thought portrayal of characters and human relationships. This is what I enjoy most in drama and yet what has been rapidly losing ground to shallow sensual appeal or complicated representations of cultural theories that are difficult capture and comprehend in visual images anyway.
Certainly Dame Helen Mirren does not need my two-penny worth to add to her sweeping success in presenting a remarkably dignified human face of Her Majesty, which has already been recognised by film academies and professionals worldwide. I would like to take this opportunity to present my credits not only to Dame Helen but also to the side cast, including those who played Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), the Prince of Wales (Alex Jennings), the Queen Mother (Sylvia Syms), Prince Philip of Greece (James Cromwell), and last but not least, Sir Robin Janvrin, or the royal housekeeper (Roger Allam). Understandably, their performance may have been outshone by that of Dame Helen, but they certainly deserve the same level of applause as she does.
Actually, the subtle and low-profile style of acting of the entire cast is what makes the film most enjoyable. How refreshing it is to see that everyone in the film was so classy and elegant that reminds me of what nobility is all about.
I would also like to give a huge credit to the screenwriter Peter Morgan, who has done an excellent job in giving an impartial but empathetic outline of characters, as well as their delicate interactions with each other over the tragic death of Princess Diana.
Essentially, there is nothing dramatic to justify a plot like the current one. By nature the film should have been a public affairs documentary more than anything else. But the screenwriter was clever enough to build the drama on the clash of the established role of Her Majesty as a sovereign of state and the changing expectations from her people with which, sadly, she found somewhat difficult to catch up and understand. What was even cleverer on the screenwriter's side was that he restrained from taking the easy route to make the film into a lousy piece of tasteless satire or disgusting propaganda of the monarchy (which, sadly, would most probably be the case should any Hong Kong director or screenwriter work on a similar project). Instead, he presented an insightful and thought-provoking juxtaposition of what Her Majesty firmly believes and what her young prime minister and the people he represents (sort of) do. Her Majesty's gradual realisation of the changing minds and hearts of her people and her internal struggle of how to deal with the clash between old and new values were by all means one of the best monologues I have ever seen.
Another thing that interests me was the screenwriter's empathy and understanding of Her Majesty more than as a sovereign of state. She was a daughter, sister, wife, mother and grandmother. Each of these roles was so closely knitted to her best-known role as a monarch that made things ever more complicated. Unlike the most of us when we often take for granted to make a clear distinction between what is private and what is business, monarchs do not necessarily enjoy the same luxury. Paradoxically, when Her Majesty tried to make this distinction to keep her sorrow away from public scrutiny, her people made a big fuss of it by pointing their fingers at the "cold and heartless".
To me, the people were just crying for consolation and sympathy from someone great and powerful, without realising that the great and powerful is also a human being just like anyone of them.
This is also why I found the scene in which Her Majesty was walking slowly outside the Buckingham Palace, looking at the sea of flowers presented in memory of Princess Diana, as well as the harsh and emotional messages scribbled on cards my favourite scene of all. A sigh of relief emerged when a little girl presented a bouquet of white daisies to Her Majesty, and the crowd saluted to the monarch with a bow as she walked along in the opposite direction, getting closer to the crowd.
Interestingly, all those who bowed were women. Perhaps the loneliness of being someone who truly believes duty first, self second is something that wives, mothers and grandmothers commonly share.