September 2, 2006

Queen was baffled by grief over Diana, film suggests

By Mike Collett-White

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

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

Helen 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
the then newly-elected Blair's role in the crisis.

With her hair dyed silver and her 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."

The film's makers do not claim to have exactly duplicated
the moment in history. But they say extensive research,
including speaking to sources close to the royal family, has
resulted in a dramatization that is as faithful as possible to
the events and protagonists.

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, her
husband Prince Philip, her son Britain's Prince Charles and her

"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 that 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 spokesman at the time, Alastair Campbell,
is shown as a cynical operator, always seeking to win Blair new

The final scene shows the queen handing Blair a stern
warning that his standing in the eyes of the public will not be
so high forever.