Sunday, November 29, 2015
(September 2006, U.S.)
In between the world events of the Kennedy assassination on November 22, 1963 and the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001, the death of Princess Diana of Wales on August 31, 1997 may have qualified as one of those "Where were you when?" moments in life. Where I was, I remember clearly, but I'll tell you all about that later.
This film by Stephen Frears focuses not only on the tragedy itself and the reaction of the English people in the days that followed (using real life footage as part of its effect) but the initial reaction or lack of reaction from the Royal Family, including Queen Elizabeth II herself (played by the very gifted actress Helen Mirren). The Royal Family chooses to regard Diana's death as a private affair and thus not to be treated as an official Royal death. This is in complete contrast with the views of Diana's ex-husband, Prince Charles (played by Alex Jennings) and newly-elected British Prime Minister Tony Blair (played by Michael Sheen) who favour the general public's desire for an official expression of grief and sorrow. Matters are further complicated by the media, the royal protocol regarding Diana's official status with the Royal Family, and wider issues about English Republicanism. The Queen, while trying to maintain a smooth relationship between herself and Tony Blair, must also struggle with her deepest feelings regarding Diana's death and her growing unpopularity among the people of her country. The Queen is not an uncaring or unsympathetic person, but merely a political figure clinging to the outdated Monarch system that has stood the test of time for centuries. Tony Blair's election represents a time of modernization and change against a system that doesn't want to change. It's the death of a truly loved public figure like Diana that represents the need for the people to express anger, and in turn, for that anger to be acknowledged by those on the throne of power.
Despite the opposite ends that the Queen and Blair occupy, Blair is empathetic to the Queen's emotional dilemma over the entire matter. There's a particularly interesting scene where Blair suddenly shouts at his own constituent in the Queen's defense when he (the constituent) makes one of his many sarcastic remarks at the Queen's expense. It's a moment, I think, when so-called political correctness is overshadowed by the emotional factor of what is right and what is wrong. Indeed, as the public attention grows and the flowers pile up outside of Kensington Palace, the Queen is finally convinced (or forced?) to make a public statement on television in which she finally comes to terms with what happened to Diana, not only as the Royal public figure that she is, but also as a grandmother. Actually, Helen Mirren shows us a side of the Queen we may have never known existed (presuming it's all true); the woman who loved to walk her dogs, the woman who would dress in ordinary clothes when she went out for walks and the woman who was also a knowledgeable mechanic.
There's one other particular scene that I think requires mentioning and that is the moment when she's venturing out alone in her Land Rover and damages it crossing a river, forcing her to telephone for assistance. While waiting, she weeps in frustration, but catches sight of a majestic red deer. The Queen is struck by his beauty and the two stare at each other for some time. I realize that I'm reaching for serious shit here, but I can't help but develop the fantastic idea that the deer is a form of Diana resurrected from the dead and the Queen is somehow meant to resolve their past relationship within the long stare between them. It's a crazy notion, I know, but the scene is filled with a special beauty that allows the mind to experience the fantastic, even when it's likely very illogical.
Okay, so now to where I was on that fateful weekend in August 1997. It was Labor Day weekend and I had a bunch of friends over at my beach house in the Hamptons for the holiday weekend. I wasn't bothering to pay for a cable-TV hook up at the time so the TV was only getting a couple of local channels that could be received through an analog signal. Because we were all having our fun on the beach and drinking the days and nights away, we didn't turn on the TV until that Sunday evening. By then, the news of Diana's death was already twenty-four hours old and we were all suddenly shocked to see what was transpiring on the news. One of my friends started to cry and I even found myself longing to see my own mother, who was living in Los Angeles. The punchline to that last statement is that I've never been tremendously close with my mother, so the fact that I was experiencing such an emotion was evidence of how Diana's sudden death was affecting me personally. One week later, her funeral was the only story being covered on the news and I can only imagine such an event hadn't received this much worldwide coverage since the funeral of John F. Kennedy in 1963. Sometimes history doesn't change when good people are taken from us tragically and unexpectedly. THE QUEEN, for all its simplicity, gives us the opportunity to personally reflect on a chapter in the history of our late 20th Century to remind us of who Diana was and what her death meant to the world.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Alastair Campbell: "Well, at least the old bat's finally agreed to visit Diana's coffin."
Tony Blair: "You know, when you get it wrong, you really get it wrong! That woman has given her whole life in service to her people. Fifty years doing a job she never wanted! A job she watched kill her father! She's executed it with honor, dignity, and, as far as I can tell, without a single blemish, and now we're all baying for her blood! All because she's struggling to lead the world in mourning for someone who...who threw everything she offered back in her face! And who, for the last few years, seemed committed twenty-four/seven to destroying everything she holds most dear!"