Saturday, October 21, 2006


Written by Peter Morgan
Directed by Stephen Frears

In August of 1997, Diana, the former Princess of Wales, was killed in a car accident. An international sense of grief overtook the modern world. She was charitable, a humanitarian, and a beautiful one at that. She was adored by millions for being flawed, for never rising above the level of the people or appearing entitled. She was modern royalty, a royalty that connected with the masses instead of one that looked down at its people from a pedestal. And while the families of the world grieved the loss of an icon with an outpouring of emotion, one family chose to keep the loss to themselves, a private family matter. That family was the Royal Family. Director Stephen Frears (MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS) bravely crosses the gates of Buckingham Palace to show the millions who watched from outside what might have been going on inside during the week following Diana’s death in this intimate and delicate portrayal of THE QUEEN.

Frears shows both respect and restraint in his telling of this tale. No one character, including Diana, is over glorified, making all points of view and perspectives relevant and reasonable. For all his nobility, Frears’ directorial efforts are surpassed by a sensitive and balanced script by writer Peter Morgan (and by the delightfully enigmatic performance by Helen Mirren as The Queen, but more on that later). Morgan’s script came together from a collection of interviews and discreet contacts. The remaining details were filled in by his imagination. The result draws many lines, leaving opposing forces on each side of the gate. Two months prior to Diana’s death, Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) was elected to office with a landslide win. He represented the modern man and the people hoped his youth would bring England a desperate revolution. England though, will always be caught between the old and the new as long as the Monarchy exists. The Monarchy by nature cannot be modern. It is steeped in tradition, some that even the family laugh at. But though they may laugh at them, they are always upheld. What the Queen does not see coming is that her allegiance to tradition has brought her and her family so far removed from her people that they no longer understand them. As the Royal Family continued to say nothing regarding Diana’s death, the public pointed their anger for their loss directly at them, insinuating that they had no compassion, no hearts. But as much as the Queen did not consider their feelings, the people did not consider hers. Different people grieve in different fashions and Morgan’s script shows the Queen’s decision to not speak publicly about Diana’s death not as a cold decision, but one that placed her family first, especially her grandsons. The very public death was also a very private matter. The closed gate between both parties never allowed either to fully comprehend the other.

By now you have heard how good Mirren is as The Queen. Trust me, you will continue to hear this until the moment she walks up to the stage to accept her Oscar (or at the very least, a BAFTA). Mirren’s humane performance is often hilarious and always insightful. In one moment, she is sarcastically dismissing the newly elected Blair; in another she is lost but determined to understand, her eyes fixed on a television interview of Diana talking about the way the Royal Family treated her. From her side of the gate, she has given her entire life to her people; they will always love her for it and respect her decisions. Mirren’s eyes are always searching for understanding, while maintaining her dignity and exhibiting restraint. At first it seems she is searching to understand why the reaction to Diana’s death is so massive. To her, Diana had always been trouble and had brought so much shame upon her family. As her search continues though, she is striving to make sense of the disdain and contempt she feels growing in her people. It is not that she is no longer connected to them; it is just that she doesn’t see where they are coming from anymore. How could she? She knows a very different side of Diana’s story than they do. In one very simple yet overwhelming scene, The Queen gets her four-wheel drive vehicle stuck in a stream. She is alone, surrounded by nature and waiting for someone to come pick her up. In that moment, she is overtaken. She says nothing but her mind’s thoughts echo the daunting position she is in. The mother of her grandsons is dead; her people have turned on her; she is the bloody Queen of England and she is stuck in a stream! It is all too much and she bursts into tears. She is only human after all.

I must admit, I did not get swept up in the worldwide grief over Diana’s death. Of course, I saw the enormous size of it but I was just not taken in by it. Even with my detached position, it is impossible to avoid being taken in to it when watching THE QUEEN. It is also not possible to support but one side thanks to Frears and Morgan. Being placed on both sides only allows for the possibility of tapping in to both expressions of grief. The grief is only heightened by the inability for both sides to empathize with the other. There is no way to know for certain how the Royal Family actually grieved the death of Diana but when THE QUEEN impartially opens the gates that have since been closed, one might hope this telling is close to the truth, if only because this possible truth will certainly heal.

1 comment:

redtown said...

The late Quentin Crisp spoke truthfully, if bluntly, that Princess Diana's own fast and shallow lifestyle contributed to her demise: "She could have been Queen of England -- and she was swanning about Paris.   What disgraceful behavior. Going about saying she wanted to be the queen of hearts. The vulgarity of it is so overpowering." (Atlanta Southern Voice, 1 July 1999).

The "queen of hearts" remains the poster girl of superficial culture and narcissistic celebrities who go emoting about everything and nothing.  But who was she really?

Both Diana and her brother, Charles Spencer, suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder caused by their mother's abandoning them as young children.  A google search reveals that Diana is considered a case study in BPD by mental health professionals.

For Charles Spencer, BPD meant insatiable sexual promiscuity (his wife was divorcing him at the time of Diana's death).

For Diana, BPD meant intense insecurity and insatiable need for attention and affection which even the best husband could never fulfill.  From a BPD perspective, it's clear that the Royal family did not cause her "problems". Rather, she brought her multiple problems into the marriage, and the Royal family was hapless to cope with them.

Her illness, untreated, sowed the seeds of her fast and unstable lifestyle, and sadly, her tragic fate.