Happy Birthday, Liz: Four Flicks Featuring Queen Elizabeth II

June 13, 2016
As we all enjoy the Queen’s Birthday public holiday, here are four flicks featuring everyone’s favourite over-privileged ninety-year-old, Queen Elizabeth II…all of which she’d probably hate.
Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth in The Queen

Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth in The Queen

THE QUEEN (2006) It should have been called “The Queen And Tony”, as this is a spellbinding look at British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Her Majesty Elizabeth II at private loggerheads after the untimely death of Princess Diana of Wales. While Blair is an energetic pit bull of a pollie looking to pique public grief, the royal family doesn’t want to know about Diana’s demise. The Queen literally hides behind closed doors, denying England and the world a large measure of emotional catharsis, and ensuring public opinion for the first time swings wildly against her. A political, personal and emotional compromise must be reached between the two big players, as we are drawn deeply into both worlds. Given its absolute realism (though largely imagined, the events of the film are drawn from reams of research), The Queen is always emotionally turbo-charged. Michael Sheen resurrects his barnstorming portrayal of Tony Blair last seen in the excellent TV movie, The Deal, and then again in 2010’s The Special Relationship. Somehow, despite the story taking place years ago, the filmmakers manage to find believable ways to provide commentary on today – as when a smug Blair is warned that his day of reckoning will come in the court of public opinion, and he responds with an invulnerable smirk, followed by a more sober understanding. The Oscar winning Helen Mirren stands equally tall in an instantly iconic performance. Much kudos should be aimed behind the camera though, particularly to writer, Peter Morgan, and director, Stephen Frears, as The Queen maintains an utterly hypnotic pace, and retains at all times the freshness of a new discovery. Conversation sparking, tartly funny, and laced with revelatory real-life details, The Queen is a fascinating look at contemporary monarchy.
Sarah Gadon as a hard partying Lizzie in A Royal Night Out

Sarah Gadon as a hard partying Lizzie in A Royal Night Out

A ROYAL NIGHT OUT (2015) A Royal Night Out is just what it says it is. Set in London on VE night – the day in 1945 when the European part of WW2 ended, and the whole of London took to the streets in joyous relief – we follow the story of two royal princesses, Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) and Margaret (Bel Powley), as they sneak out for a night time adventure. This film ought not to work in 2015. Who could care about what two spoiled Pommy princesses did seventy years ago? And yet, director, Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots), brings it off beautifully. Not only is Jarrold’s direction assured, but the acting is good too. Canadian actress, Sarah Gadon, has star quality, and though Bel Powley is good too, there is more caricature in her portrayal than Gadon’s.  The idea of portraying the present Queen – who has struggled to maintain her dignity whilst her family plays up all around her – must have been daunting for Gadon. After all, she is not Dame Helen Mirren yet. In the narrative, Princess Elizabeth gets to spend some time with a “commoner” – a sailor called Jack (Jack Reynor) – who escorts her through the various thronging jubilant crowds. The film could have stayed as costume drama, but the shy, almost-a-relationship overtones borrow from rom-com conventions without ever becoming gauche or silly. The film also conveys the atmosphere of that unique night in a way which is moving rather than merely nostalgically monarchist. Ordinary people won that war, and they knew it too. The Royal Family dilemmas of the drama are beautifully anchored by strong support playing from Emily Watson as the Queen mother (as she was to become), while the delightful Rupert Everett steals all his scenes as the stuttering King George trying to keep track of his daughters whilst preparing for The King’s Speech. Worth a look, what? Rather.

"Hello, commoners!" Liz gives us a wave in When The Queen Came To Town

“Hello, commoners!” Liz gives us a wave in When The Queen Came To Town

WHEN THE QUEEN CAME TO TOWN (2014) While a visit from the Prince and the Duchess may make headlines today, it’s nothing compared to when Queen Elizabeth II graced Australian shores in 1954. Her two-month Royal Tour proved to be the biggest event staged in the country, and sixty years on, her maiden trip down under is revisited in Maurice Murphy’s documentary, When The Queen Came To Town. Narrated by Bert Newton, and intercut with archival footage and interviews with various beaming Australians recalling the visit, When The Queen Came To Town is spun like a fairytale. We watch as the pretty young Queen makes her way around the country, opening parliaments, thanking war veterans, attending balls, and doing a whole lot of waving to the millions of citizens who turned out to see her. While seeing the sheer scale of the events is mind-boggling, especially considering the organisation that must have preceded them, this documentary doesn’t dig any deeper than merely relaying the tour schedule – city by city, outfit by outfit. The most fascinating moment comes when Bert Newton comments that this visit was our first taste of celebrity, which gives an indication as to all the rich, relevant issues that remain untapped in this documentary. Revisiting this piece of history could have been used as a tipping point to explore our modern obsession with the royals and fame, or even the Australian post-WW2 psyche. It could have even stopped to consider what the experience of being thrust into the spotlight so intensely must have been like for a 26-year-old newly crowned Queen, who had just lost her father. Instead, When The Queen Came To Town is content to play as a pleasant but superfluous trip down memory lane.
Freya Wilson as a little Liz in The King's Speech

Freya Wilson as a little Liz in The King’s Speech

THE KING’S SPEECH (2010) The true story of a stammering future monarch and his maverick Aussie speech therapist sounds like one for dedicated historical drama heads only. Yet the multiple-Oscar-grabbing The King’s Speech is the stuff of crowd-pleasing brilliance. Cinematic, amusing, and uplifting, the key players are wonderful, with Colin Firth delivering a career-defining turn as the future King George VI – known to family and friends as Bertie – the father of the future Queen Elizabeth II (who is played here as a little girl by Freya Wilson) and spouse of the eventual Queen Mother (Helena Bonham Carter). The plot ostensibly centres on Bertie’s unlikely friendship with speech therapist, Lionel Logue (a reined-in Geoffrey Rush), but The King’s Speech is really about a personal struggle that takes place against a dramatic historical panorama, which includes the controversial abdication of King Edward VIII (an enjoyable Guy Pearce) to marry the twice-divorced Mrs. Simpson (Eve Best), and the outbreak of WW2. It’s rich material, with Les Miserables director Tom Hooper creating surprising tension whenever the stammering Bertie speaks publicly. Bertie was a snob, disconnected from what his even snobbier father called the “proletarian abyss.” He was a loving family man, but also impatient, sometimes discourteous, and deeply flawed. In short, a real person, albeit an unbelievably privileged one. Firth brings his inherent likeability to the role, and you sympathise with Bertie as he deals with his vocal demons. It might be set in the rarefied world of British royalty, yet it tells a universal story. Highly entertaining and highly recommended, there’s a tale here that everyone can relate to – the facing of personal challenges.

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