September 2, 2006

Film shows Queen baffled by grief over Diana

By Mike Collett-White

VENICE (Reuters) - The Queen was unable to comprehend the
public's grief at Princess Diana's death in 1997 but was
finally convinced to cast aside royal protocol by British Prime
Minister Tony Blair, a new film shows.

Stephen Frears' "The Queen" was screened at the Venice Film
Festival on Saturday, giving journalists the first chance to
see the eagerly-awaited reconstruction of the dramatic days
following the high-speed car crash in Paris that killed Diana.

Mirren, who has just won an Emmy for her title role in the
mini-series "Elizabeth I," takes on the unusual task of
portraying a living monarch in the film, which also explores
newly-elected Blair's role in the crisis.

With her hair dyed silver and voice trained to match that
of the monarch, Mirren gives a convincing performance full of
humor and sympathy for a woman struggling to abandon the stiff
upper lip she believed her people wanted her to display.

"There's been a change, some shift in values," Mirren's
queen says during a conversation with her mother at Balmoral in
Scotland. She also contemplates abdicating the throne.

"I don't think I'll ever understand what happened this
summer," she adds toward the end of the film in a conversation
with Blair. "I've never been hated like that before. I prefer
to keep my feelings to myself. That's all I've ever known."

Frears explores the relationship between Blair and the
long-serving monarch, and suggests the prime minister saw her
as a mother figure. Blair's wife, Cherie, is far less
sympathetic to royalty.

In the days after Diana's death headlines were dominated by
the backlash against the royal family caused by what people saw
as its indifference to the hugely popular princess.


The audience at the press screening applauded the film at
the end and enjoyed scenes of intimacy between the Queen,
Prince Philip, Britain's Prince Charles and her mother.

"Move over cabbage," Philip says as the couple go to bed,
and the queen dons a woolly dressing gown and clutches a hot
water bottle on the night Diana is killed.

Philip, played by U.S. actor James Cromwell, enjoys some
hilarious lines. Furious at the idea of holding a public
funeral for Diana, he calls the invited guests "a chorus line
of soap stars and homosexuals."

Michael Sheen reprises the part of Blair which he also
played in the television drama "The Deal."

The prime minister, himself riding on a wave of popularity
at the time as the queen's ratings plummeted, is portrayed as
someone genuinely concerned for the royal family.

In contrast his former spokesman, Alastair Campbell, is a
cynical operator seeking always to win Blair new fans.

Throwing the narrative forward, the final scene shows the
queen handing Blair a stern warning that his standing in the
eyes of the public will not be as high forever.