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The movie, The Queen, which is directed by Stephen Frears provides us with a glimpse on happenings behind the scenes in the royal palace in England following the death of Prince Diana in the year 1997. Popularly known as the People’s Princess, the death of Princess Diana (together with her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed) in a car crash in Paris, comes as a completely astonishing personal tragedy for both Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) and Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), the newly elected Labor Prime Minister, and threatens to shake the very foundation of the monarchy . Her death comes as a shock to the public, and they mourn and grieve for the people’s princess. This paper focuses on analyzing the movie, The Queen in light of the theme of mourning and rituals of death, including public and private mourning, the loss of a socially important person as we as the impact of a lack of a proper ritual.
Queen Elizabeth thinks that Princess Diana’s death should be privately mourned by her family (the Spencer’s), rather than a public or national morning because at the time of her death, she was divorced from her former husband Prince Charles (Alex Jennings), and therefore she is no longer part of the royal family. Blair foresees the possibility of the monarchy being gravely hurt if not overthrown, if the Queen insists on adhering to the protocol of the royal family and as a result fails to give a statement about the death of Princess Diana.
The extraordinary grief felt by the people following her demise shows just how much of a national and social hero and an important person she was and therefore, the greater trauma being felt by the people is justified. While the Queen opts to maintain a private mourning for Princess Diana, pressure is mounted on her by the grieving fans of Diana and the media frenzy for the flag to be flown at half- mast in honor of the Buckingham palace, and to offer her a heroic mourning and funeral. In spite of the massive outpourings for a public mourning, including Tony Blair’s request, the Queen stands her ground maintaining that Diana is not a member of the royal family, and therefore the palace cannot recognize her demise and fund her funeral. According to Gibbs the cry by a majority of the public for her to be accorded a proper mourning and burial is reiterated in the words of Tony Blair, who says, “They screwed up her life; let's hope they don't screw up her death” (2007, p. 67). Even her former husband, Prince Charles maintains that the royal family needs to join in with the public mood in mourning for Diana’s death.
Princess Diana’s death interrupts the sleep of Queen Elizabeth more than once. The casual way in which the royalty handles her death spurs anger and curiosity among the public, who seem to be so invasive, even knocking at the palace, in an attempt to know what is going on. In a short while after the body of Diana is brought back from Paris by Prince Charles, we see the Queen retreating to Balmoral, even without saying a word. This stubbornness fuels sorrow and rage among the fans of Princess Diana, who lays hundreds of thousands banquets of flowers in front of the Buckingham palace, even blocking the gate of the palace. This is a gesture of their respect, sympathy and mourning for a social figure that was truly adored and loved by many.
In the next couple of days leading to Diana’s funeral, clashes are witnessed between pragmatism versus protocol, public mourning versus private grief, as well as duty versus opportunism as the Queen is gradually persuaded by the media and Tony Blair to get out of the cocoon of the royal palace to meet the demand of the public. The royal family’s insistence on a private mourning for Diana is evident when the Queen Elizabeth’s husband is surprised at the fact that prominent public figures such as the renowned singer Elton John, is invited to attend Diana’s funeral to sing the song, Candle in the Wind, in memory of the Peoples’ Princess; Princess Diana. Philip and other members of the royal family view such an invitation as a degrading submission to the public frenzy.
In the midst of everything that is going on, the popularity of Prime minister, Tony Blair begins to rise among the public, as that of Queen Elizabeth goes down; in fact, the public demands that she abdicates her office for Blair to take over. Out of the respect and admiration that Blair has for the Queen, he advises her to regain the confidence the public have on her by attending Diana’s public funeral which was done at Westminster Abbey, as well as addressing the people on the television concerning the life and legacy of Princess Diana. Realizing that her very own position as a Queen of England was at stake, she decides to follow Blair’s advice by making a television address about Diana, describing her “as an exceptional and gifted human being”. Her efforts finally pay off; she is able to gain back her popularity. This is a show of just how failing to carry out proper death rituals for a loved one, (for instance, keeping the death of a person private) could tear apart the social fabric in the society. This is evidenced in the way people started changing their views about the Queen, and wanted her to vacate her office.
The Royal family is portrayed as one that is insensitive and callous as regards anything going on that does not concern them. The husband to the Queen, Prince Phillip (James Cromwell), occurs to me as so unfeeling and unsympathetic in the manner in which he states things that few people speak about aloud. The Queen mum (Sylvia, Syms) on the other hand, seems out of reach and clueless about what is going own. However, there is the Press Secretary to Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and his wife, who plays the role of being the peoples voices, as they are seen showing their contempt for the pretentious and rude behavior of the royal family on how they handle the death of Princess Diana.
According to Latham (2011), credit should be given to this sharply written screen play, by Peter Morgan, which is his second script after The last King of Scotland, both of which are fictional movies that give accounts of real events and people. Morgan brilliant job does not only end in informing the public of what might have taken place behind the scenes in the British royal palace following the death of Princess Diana; he was also includes fiction involving a stag on the castle’s ground, that took away the attention from Diana’s death to give the Queen more concern.
The performance of Helen Mirren as the Queen of England is vividly outstanding. She is able to restrain and hold back her emotions, despite the grief that has befallen the royal family. This perfectly captures the appropriate nature of how the Queen is expected to behave in real life situation. She is submerged into the Queen’s role until she is able to perfectly to carry over emotional restraint even when nobody else is around her.
On the other hand, the exemplary performance of Michael Sheen as Tony Blair can be attributed to his previous role of prime minister in the movie, The Deal, which was collaborated between him and Frears. Indeed, the whole film is well scripted and performed, from Prince Charles classily handled and touching moment as he views the body of Prince Diana while in France, to other smaller for instance, the personal secretary of the royal family (Robin Janvrin whose real name is Roger Allam), all of which add up to make the entire film better.
The movie, The Queen is a well scripted and acted fiction of the real happenings behind the closed doors of the royal palace in England following the death of Princess Diana, the People’s Princess, as she was popularly known. The shock that comes with her death, throws the country into mourning and grief, despite the Queen’s insistence that Diana’s death should be mourned privately because she was no longer part of the royal family, following her divorce from Prince Charles. The effects of refusing to conduct proper death ritual and mourning for Diana is evident when the Queen starts to loose her popularity when she constantly refuses to acknowledge her death. But later on, her popularity is regained when she follows Blair’s advice and joins others to publicly mourn Princes Diana and also addresses the nation through a television on her legacy. This is a lesson to every one that despite the differences we may have with a departed person, we should accord them proper mourning and death rituals lest we risk tearing the social fabric between us and his or her loved ones.