Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. United Kingdom/France/Italy, 2006. Pathe Pictures International, Granada Film Productions, Pathé Renn Productions, BIM Distribuzione, France 3 Cinema, Canal+, Future Films, Scott Rudin Productions. Screenplay by Peter Morgan. Cinematography by Affonso Beato. Produced by Andy Harries, Christine Langan, Tracey Seaward. Music by Alexandre Desplat. Production Design by Alan MacDonald. Costume Design by Consolata Boyle. Film Editing by Lucia Zucchetti. Academy Awards 2006. Boston Film Critics Awards 2006. Golden Globe Awards 2006. Las Vegas Film Critics Awards 2006. National Board of Review Awards 2006. New York Film Critics Awards 2006. Phoenix Film Critics Awards 2006. Washington Film Critics Awards 2006.
Goddammit, I just love me a good movie about a queen! Be it Elizabeth I, Mrs. Brown or Truman Capote, you put a bitch in a crown and a flowing dress and I’m glued to my couch ’til the traitors are knived. Helen Mirren, who the previous year took on the first Elizabeth in a television movie (to the tune of another Emmy Award) here tackles Betty 2 in this superbly understated, absorbing drama. It covers the turbulent week following the tragic death of Princess Diana, during which public opinion turned against the royal family of Britain and threatened to destroy the monarchy for good. Elizabeth, torn between her commitment to avoiding emotional vulnerability and a nation looking to see her cry out loud, is put in the position of having to deal with a possible upheaval in British history and wishywashy Tony Blair (a spot-on Michael Sheen) trying to get her to do whatever the daily rags demand. Sylvia Syms is spectacular in her few scenes as the feisty Queen Mother (just look at her face when she finds out about the ‘celebrities’ at Diana’s funeral) while James Cromwell is solid as the insufferable Prince Philip, whose refusal to catch up with the times is the opposition to Elizabeth’s wanting to move forward. What works best about this film, another stunner from the always reliable Stephen Frears, is that it avoids tabloid-style sentimentality and instead provides a sober, melodrama-free look into the mind of a woman trying to cross decades of modernization in only seven days; rather than a biography, it’s a film that examines the nature of duty versus desire, and Mirren’s stultifying performance puts across these arcs in the character’s journey with superb finesse. Hagged up and given that permafrost hairdo, Mirren and screenwriter Peter Morgan provide a complex, sympathetic and challenging look at a woman who has seen more changes in the British monarchical system in her one reign than any other ruler in England’s history. Royal family lovers, anti-monarchists and die hard Diana-philes will all find much to enjoy in this winner.