God Save The Queen

Today I went out with Tomemos and another friend to see The Queen. It was spectacular. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and actually didn’t read past the high metacritic score, so my best guess going in was a film about the little humorous events of a pampered and hidebound life.

Instead, it revealed itself to be a film about the limits of a person’s capacity for change. In the film, Mirren’s beautifully rendered Elizabeth II has to deal with the fallout from Diana’s death, and over the course of a few frightening days of public scrutiny and censure, learns that the public is making entirely new demands on the monarchy because of the changes Diana’s story, and the attention of the media, have wrought. In order to preserve a monarchy she believes in, she has to submit to shame and public humiliation. She has to pretend to care for the memory of Diana, even though she holds Diana responsible for the publicized view that the royalty are out of touch with the British people.

It is a film about being hated; about the need to face one’s accusers, and put them at ease, while at the same time forgiving them for having shown hatred. It is a film about the political world as each of us experiences it; that is, the world of necessary, obnoxious relations in our professional and personal lives, which we bear for the sake of the people and principles to whom we are really faithful. It touches on the finely shaded difference between compromise, and simple weakness; there are several telling scenes where the Queen, in her careful attention to the popular will, is contrasted with the Prince of Wales, who merely panders out of fear.

It is about the divide between confidence and correctness; all around the Queen, the more conservative members of her family stick closely to the self-righteous myths that make the events of the day easiest to understand. They continue to believe that the British people will be won over by a show of icy dignity, completely unaware of the inertia of their position.

The Queen lingers over a scene where Elizabeth encounters a beautiful, live stag deer, which is later shot by an investment banker. She is so struck by its beauty that she speaks her compliments out loud. The vision of the deer, and her later vision of it as a decapitated prize, is the particular moment when she realizes her own danger, and realizes what she has in common with Diana. That a single moment of existence, illuminated by beauty, should found the Queen’s awakening courage — this is what happened to crown my own day in its clarity.