Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Born To Be Queen

  When I was about 5 years old my biggest aspiration in life was to become a princess. It wasn't a rare occasion where I would run around my house for hours with my favorite Cinderella dress on and order around the "peasants" (my stuffed animals) with my sparkly scepter demanding them to clean my room. For me being royalty was wearing pretty dresses, going to balls, and having everyone love you unconditionally.
     It would not occur to me much later in my life that maybe that's not what being royal is like at all. In all reality the image of the monarchy versus the actuality of it is nothing but an illusion that is shattered by The Queen.
    Released in 2006 The Queen, directed by Stephen Frears, is a look beyond the gates that have forever separated the public from the monarchy in England. Thrown into the chaotic happenings that surrounded Princess Diana's death on August 31 1997, we as the audience fluctuate between Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) and HM Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren)  as they both struggle to find a balance between the new world and the traditional.
   HM Queen Elizabeth II is presented to us as many would expect the Queen to be presented. She is tightlipped, professional, and gray. With an air of strict elegance Helen Mirren conducts herself in such a manner that within the first few seconds of meeting her that she is, in fact, The Queen. Of course the beautiful costume, designed by Consolata Boyle, is a major hint that Helen Mirren is of some importance but the very straight-backed attitude and traditional english dialect that she uses is what gives way that this is the very image of the Queen.
   As we progress through the film it is obvious that this image of royalty incredibly two dimensional, as is the traditional system of dealing with public affairs such as the death of a major figure like Diana and it becomes apparent that the Royal Family would like to keep it that way. At the moment that the tragic news is delivered to the family we have no time to gauge their reaction as we are swept to the mourning of the crowds, we have no access to the people who actually knew Diana just the people who pretended to. Much like the barriers that have surrounded the Royal Family for all of time, the Queen feels as if she must maintain this historic silence and separate herself from actually feeling to carry out her duties.
   Helen Mirren, a dame born in West London, transformed herself flawlessly into the image of HM Queen Elizabeth II through the dedication of watching past footage of her speeches and taking extensive voice coaching to reproduce The Queen's speech that she delivers at the end of the film to immaculacy. During an interview Mirren even said that becoming "the Queen came almost naturally after the wig and glasses" and since she shared the slightly downturned mouth of HM Queen Elizabeth II it was not difficult to see the innate monarch inside.
      It is evident in Helen Mirren's performance that what must be done, will be done and instead of retaliating to the cold shoulder that she attempts to put forth as an audience we begin to understand the reality of coming from a line of tradition and being terrified to step away from that. The miracle that Mirren can create a mask of this classic public figure but also give way to the hesitant vulnerability of the human being behind the title is what makes her performance truly remarkable. We start to feel for her even before she lets herself cry because we are aware of the hurt that is underneath the pearls, the crown, and the tightlippedness of the upbringing she never wanted.
  The notion of traditional supremacy and the modern realization that not everything is how it seems behind the gates of Buckingham Palace is what this film hinges on. By playing off of the established image of the monarchy one by one, through the performance of Helen Mirren we are able to break down these walls and truly understand what it is to be Queen.