The Best Picture nominee actually begins with a picture — Queen Elizabeth II sitting still in her blue velvet robe, posing for her own oil painting. By the time she gets up to talk to the artist, you are thoroughly convinced that Helen Mirren is Her Majesty, and that what you are about to see is a true portrait.
As a movie, The Queen is a work of art, beautiful and painful, mesmerizing and surprising. We all know the story, of course, of how the Royal Family, Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the people of England dealt with Princess Di’s sudden death in 1997. In less adept hands, the movie could have been a farce or a soap opera or a caricature.
But thanks to Peter Morgan’s well-crafted script and director Stephen Frears’ tough-love approach, The Queen feels both real and timeless. ”If you make films about living people,” Frears told The New York Times, ”you always feel a responsibility, and you bend over backwards.” Morgan and Frears had faced this responsibility before, collaborating on the ”faction” 2003 telefilm The Deal, about Blair — also played by Michael Sheen — and fellow Labour politician Gordon Brown. ”With the Queen,” Frears said, ”you’re not only dealing with your responsibility toward her, but everyone in the audience has very strong feelings.”
Like a great painting, The Queen inspires a variety of emotions: sympathy, hatred, humor, outrage. It also provides something of a moral. The movie ends with a chat between Blair and the Queen, in which the PM acts as if she should be in his debt for defusing the public’s anger at the royal family. Her Majesty looks shrewdly at Blair and tells him that he’ll be the target of that anger himself someday. For now, though, audiences feel nothing but love for The Queen.