The magnificence of Balmoral and the wild beauty of its surroundings – this movie may be the most successful Scotland travelogue since “Geordie” – provide a dramatic setting for the film whose plot hinges on whether Elizabeth will abandon her “country castle” for stuffy Buckingham to honor the tragic death of Princess Di. When you see Balmoral, you understand why Elizabeth might not want to leave for reasons more complex than mere antipathy for Diana. When Tony Blair urges Elizabeth to come to London to meet the mourning masses, he is pulling her away from something, a world that may have depth and feeling at least equal to what Diana and her legions represent. In fact, the film’s most poignant sequence shows Elizabeth motoring about her wild lands in an old (I think) Range Rover – she does this herself; the movie reminds us she was a mechanic during WWII – when she comes upon a majestic stag she saves from some off screen hunters (probably including her dimwitted husband Philip, played well by James Cromwell). Later, inexorably, the stag is killed. The Queen is revealed as an environmentalist of her own kind and we sense there is more to her than we thought. When Elizabeth finally does go to London, we understand that her “acquiescence” to Blair’s wishes may constitute less of a change of personality than meets the eyes. The old girl probably had it in her all along.
Now perhaps I am an easy audience for this film – and more sympathetic than I should be to Elizabeth (the movie sent me to Wikipedia to review her life) – because I was never swept up in Dianamania. Yes, Di had all the right attitudes toward AIDS, land mines and such, and, yes, she was beautiful in an untouchable sort of way, but all those Mediterranean yacht trysts with cheesy Fayeds, topless paparazzi pixs, etc. undercut her largesse for me. I guess I prefer my saints in hairier shirts.
So as soon I “got” this film, I was on its side because its refreshingly un-PC attitude surprised me. I expected it to be “royals bad/Di good” – something it decidedly is not. I also think it is well made enough to get the Academy on its side as well. Helen Mirren as Elizabeth is a heavy early Oscar favorite for best actress. Frears (director), Morgan (screenplay), Michael Sheen (Tony Blair – for supporting actor) are also in the hunt. I would like to tip the hat as well to master Director of Photography Affonso Beato (“All About My Mother,” the forthcoming “Love in the Time of Cholera”). He made me want to go to Scotland.
Roger L. Simon was nominated for an Academy Award for his adaptation of Isaac Singer’s “Enemies, A Love Story”.