‘Duty first, self second‘ is a powerful statement that befits the (preferred) behaviour of all those seated in power across the world. In fact one would think, the higher and greater the power, the more applicable such a rule. Inasmuch as this is true, obviously the fact of the world at the moment is farthest from that statement.
Herewith then, is a reminder of that statement and the acting out of it’s meaning, served up by Stephen Rears, Michael Sheen as Tony Blair and Dame Helen Mirren as the Queen, in a performance that garnered her an Oscar Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for 2007. An amazing feat and one of many reasons to view this film, and inasmuch as her understated work is a true sight to behold for me, just another reason to view it still.
To explain, let me say that the reasons to watch are quite many. Princess Diana fans will love the recounting of the events towards and the week after her death, which this movie spends 2/3rds of its time on. Fans of the Royals and Anglophiles, of which there are many, will love the pomp and protocol always necessary in any story telling where there is the Queen involved, the hurried rush and lowering of heads of the masses in her presence, and everyone will get an interesting glance at how the dynamics of the Prime Minister’s office and Buckingham Palace work as well.
Then there is the human story – about a tragic death and the mourning of hundreds of thousands, including myself at the time, whom upon learning of her death felt an appreciable, albeit somewhat confusing sadness, given I was still a kid with hardly any idea of her impact in life and situated at the opposite end of the globe as it were. There’s the documented response and activity by all persons involved, including that of estranged husband Prince Charles, whose resulting one – dimensional bad guy role during all this has damaged him in the eyes of many, and even the silent Prince Philip, the Queen’s husband, and Queen Elizabeth, her mother, whom this movie I think has not entirely been kind towards.
The principal storyline I wanted to focus on however, is that of the behaviour of leaders, their principles and values that form their decision making during trying times, such as that the Queen earlier exhibited before her change of heart. While initially quite shocking, this movie brings forward the reason behind the Royal’s presumed distance and heartlessness over such a world – affecting affair as Diana’s death.
For inasmuch as the world thought of them as insensitive brutes, ‘The Establishment’, as the Brits refer to them in mockery, preferred to mourn in quiet dignity and – the idea quite shocking to any entity in a public eye – in private. The mere idea of which is thoroughly beyond the grasp of anyone in these modern times. Our modern society will have none of this ‘quiet, private affairs dealt within the family‘ business. What we want is a show. We want the Royal Family in complete attendance in full pomp and pageantry with horses and grand carraiges and the view of the Buckingham Palace in full splendor at the background. The concept of a family grieving in private within the walls of its own abode is alien to us. Especially monarchs.
Mirren handled the representation of the Queen in a manner, I think, that is only capably done by the British who are masters of the art of subtlety. Her performance during the scene where she was stuck at a river, and the sudden appearance of the stag, whose analogy to Diana is simple, compelling and again, subtle, is amazing and truly the stuff worth of Best Actress performances.
Again, a terrific performance but one, I believe, seconded only by the story of people – and of their leader the Queen – growing up with old – school values forged in steel and having to deal with what the modern world requires. I honestly approached this movie wrong, thinking it would serve merely as proof to condemn them as I thought – and as the press represents them to be – cold hearted, unimpassioned misplaced beings still living in a world far gone without place in the here and now.
But in the end, the movie shows the Queen as a pillar of dignity, poise, courage and self – discipline, traits that, at the end of the day, we sorely need more of rather than the garish pomp and ridiculous idiocy our press – savvy insufferable fools for leaders readily provide us with.