“This isn’t Paris?” screenwriter Peter Morgan asks The Queen director Stephen Frears on their commentary, as the film cuts to what’s supposedly the French capital. “No,” growls Frears. “It’s Chiswick.” The double act on the commentary is a dry comic delight to match nearly anything in the movie, save for the majesterial turns from Helen Mirren and Michael Sheen at its heart.
The pair play Elizabeth II and Tony Blair respectively, following one of the most critical weeks of their lives: the death of Diana. With the monarch’s frosty stoic values running contrary to the wave of grief engulfing the nation, the newly elected Prime Minister must nudge Her Royal Madgeness towards modernisation.
Little more needs to be said about Mirren’s much-gonged role. Michael Sheen– often overlooked in the rush to crown Dame Helen – gives a performance that’s every bit her equal, confirming him as one of the country’s best character actors. They’re aided by a scalpel-sharp script that’s a funny, pacey, moving and – most of all – poignant portrait of a nice old lady discovering that the country has changed and no one told her. Never the most cinematic of movies (it feels like a TV drama) The Queen looks much more cosy on DVD. And then there’s the chat-track. Taking the piss royally, Morgan and Frears are funny, fascinating and grossly indiscreet. “Look how I look,” Morgan recounts overhearing Mirren at a premiere groan to her husband – director Taylor Hackford – about her image on the screen. “Would you ever want to fuck me again?”