A movie about Princess Diana is bound to miss the mark or end up hitting it silly. Insightfully, "The Queen" indirectly explores Diana the person and Diana the unparalleled phenomenon. "The Queen" communicates more thought and feeling than you might expect about "the People's Princess" and more about Britain's royal character than you might separately choose to see.
The Oscar-contending filter is Helen Mirren playing Queen Elizabeth. She perfectly looks the part, right down to the way she strides between posed Royal circumstances. Her face carries more than a thousand years of royal lineage and more than 50 years on the throne. Helen Mirren crystallizes a reign of accelerating irrelevancy. You experience a queen of intense grace and remarkable ordinariness.
Because of Diana's tragic death, what could have been a boring run of royal stoicism and pettiness takes on dramatic weight well worth the cinematic journey. This film treads lightly on mega-celebrity trappings. Divorced Diana, no longer a member of the royal family, appears only in news clips. Her royal children must carry on, protected too tenaciously by their grandma and less grand grandpa.
The grounding of "The Queen" is all Helen Mirren. However, the dynamic of this film's intelligence and emotion is all Michael Sheen, who plays Prime Minister Tony Blair. Who knows how factual "The Queen" is, with all its staging of private exchanges. It seems, however, to represent what the truth must hold. Whatever people's image is of Tony Blair, it certainly gets a boost in this film.
Blair, the new and modern prime minister, deeply grasps a crisis that threatens the monarchy - he knows it still defines part of the British soul. Michael Sheen keeps caricature at arm's length. His Blair even manages to inject boyishness and wonder into a fine example of crisp leadership.
The legend of Diana lives on, but a film like "The Queen" helps to shape its place in the history of a world ever struggling to figure out what modern really is.