When Princess Diana was killed in a car accident in 1997, people around the globe were personally devastated. After first capturing the world's imagination with her storybook wedding to Prince Charles, adoration for Diana only seemed to grow as her marriage very publicly fell apart. But as mourners descended on Buckingham Palace to pay their last respects in the days following her death, sadness quickly turned to outrage at the seeming disrespect Diana was given by the Royal Family. 'The Queen' provides a fascinating new perspective on that week, and provides a multilayered contribution to the historical discussion on the British Royal Family, the business of politics, and the ever-present disconnect between the classes.
The dramatized account of that fateful week focuses on the rocky relationship between the Royal Family and Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) as they struggle with how to publicly deal with the death of the then long-estranged Princess Diana. As presented in the film, Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) is at a loss, confused by the intense public mourning, the loyalties of her country and the changing times. While the Royal Family chooses to deal with the situation by retreating into privacy, their silence only seems to aggravate the public. Blair attempts to guide them through the situation and save them from themselves, but instead meets mostly resistence, ultimately only finding an attentive ear in Queen Elizabeth herself. Their interactions provide the meat of the film as she slowly comes to grips with the evolution England has undergone over the centuries. Anger, sadness, and arrogance become the central elements as the film examines the separation between reality and the sheltered world of royalty.
'The Queen' was one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2006 and was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture. Mirren walked away with the award for Best Actress and the film collected a series of honors from various organizations. Roger Ebert was so impressed with the flick that he even made a rare appearance during his surgical recovery to review it. Earning the most praise were the film's impressive performances. Mirren and Sheen, in particular, completely disappear within their roles, bringing an authenticity to a film that many saw as akin to a top tier documentary.
The supporting cast is also extraordinary -- James Cromwell is perfectly cast as the huffy Prince Philip, Sylvia Syms is frustratingly prim as the Queen Mother, and Alex Jennings is empathetic as the saddened Prince Charles. Director Stephen Frears guides each of film's the nuanced performances with extraordinary balance, demonstrating sympathy for film's real-life players, without ever veering into uncharacteristic sentimentality.
But perhaps most notably, 'The Queen' adds a most unique perspective to the ongoing public discourse on the relevance of the British Royal Familiy, and the apparent disconnect between them and their subjects. And while the story is specfic to a certain time in England, the film's more universal themes are relevant to any discussion of power, wealth, and entitlement issues in many countries, including the US.
Overall, 'The Queen' may be slow for some, but I personally found it utterly captivating. Not only does the film add dimension to a group of detached royals, it examines the consequences of those who lead without a true connection to their followers. It also brings a human side to the inhuman, investigating the inner-workings and motivations of a royal family and a queen many people have never understood.
Presented in 1080p using the VC-1 codec, this single layer 25GB Blu-ray disc boasts a solid transfer that looks great in high definition. The faded palette doesn't hinder vibrant colors, warm skin tones, and the lush detailing of landscape shots. Black levels are deep, shadow delineation is excellent, and fine object detail is well rendered. Pause the film and take a look around the cluttered royal palace -- packed with ornate decorations and trinkets, each element in the rooms is crisp and clear in the background. Texture detail is very good in close-ups and doesn't seem artificially boosted or uncharacteristically soft. Equally notable is the scene in the countryside where Elizabeth II encounters a stag walking through the fields. Even the bark on the trees is distinguishable, while the underbrush is sharply detailed, and the mountains in the background show off tiny stones, trees, and pathways. The dimension of the stag's fur deserves a separate paragraph all it's own, but I'll save you the trouble and just call it astounding.
There are some small problems. Source noise and compression artifacting trickle through darker areas and cloudy skies at times, while grain can be inconsistently heavy during certain shots. Some scenes are slightly softer than others (due to lighting differences and varying film stock), and low quality news footage peppers the film with moments of video that was clearly never intended to be put under a high-def microscope.
All things considered, 'The Queen' looks wonderful on Blu-ray, offering a high-def presentation that is leaps and bounds better than the concurrently-released standard def DVD. Sure, this release is not without some minor problems, but none occur frequently enough to really distract from this otherwise top-notch presentaion.
'The Queen' features a 16-bit uncompressed PCM 5.1 track that reproduces the dialogue driven experience of the film without a hitch. Voices are expertly prioritized in the soundscape and channel movement is more subtle than I expected. Accuracy is dead on and the soundfield adds nice touches to reproduce the acoustics of various environments. Compare the sound in Tony Blair's home to the resonance of the royal palace -- it's clear that a lot of time was spent creating a realistic series of layers in the mix. This Blu-ray edition of 'The Queen' also includes a Dolby Digital 5.1 option (640 kbps), but it's a tad muddled and is no match for the PCM mix, which boasts a more involving soundscape, crisper voices, and increased ambiance in the rear channels.
But while the audio package in 'The Queen' is technically impressive, unfortunately the film's sound design doesn't give it much of a workout. Surround sound, in particular, is quite lacking with the subwoofer largely forgotten and the rear channels rarely providing any depth beyond room ambiance. The soundtrack is also quite dull -- the instrumentation in the score seems light and the music swells unnaturally at times, adding an unwelcome dose of sentimentality to the proceedings. Overall, I can't fault the mix for the shortcomings of the film's sound design -- technically it's a fine track. That being said, 'The Queen' certainly won't be a disc you pull out to show off your surround system.
This Blu-ray edition of 'The Queen' mirrors the supplements package on the standard-def release, and while it's not jam-packed, there's likely enough here to satisfy casual fans of the flick.
First up is a behind-the-scenes featurette titled "The Making of The Queen" that clocks in just shy of twenty minutes. Even though it's basically a talking-heads piece intercut with behind-the-scenes production footage, this is a surprisingly detailed addition to the disc. It includes interviews with Mirren, Sheen, and others discussing their portrayals of the real-life characters in the film. There's a lot of little interesting tidbits about what each actor brought to their role after months of extensive research. To top it all off, the major players talk about the motivations and personalities they built around the fictionalized versions of their larger-than-life inspirations.
Next comes two feature commentaries -- one with director Stephen Frears and writer Peter Morgan and one with British Historian and Royal Expert Robert Lacey. The main commentary with Frears and Morgan was dry and only mildly entertaining. The biggest downside was that they spend too much time discussing information we've already learned from watching the film. While they focus much of their discusion on the ramifications the tragedy had on the royal family, they spend a good deal of time speculating about the queen rather than revealing details unearthed their research. Making matter worse, the track drifts into silence a bit too often, while Frears tends to frequently drift into less interesting discussion of shot technicalities. On the flip side (and much to my surprise), the commentary with Robert Lacey is quite intriguing. Chock full of anecdotes, inside information, and little-known facts about the royals, Lacey's track is informative, charming, and he himself doesn't seem at all intellectually pompous. Don't shrug this one off as a low quality throw-away supplement -- it's worth your time and will probably catch you off guard as well.
'The Queen' garnered a lot of well-deserved attention in 2006 from critics and audiences alike. The film features spellbinding performances from Helen Mirren and Michael Sheen, a universal examination of power and class, and an illuminating portrait of England's increasingly anachronistic Royal Family. Boasting high quality visuals, a technically impressive audio package, and a fair amount of informative supplemental features, this Blu-ray release is definitely worth checking out.