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Di-lovers, monarchists, film buffs out in force at opening d

 
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 15, 2006 8:18 am    Post subject: Di-lovers, monarchists, film buffs out in force at opening d Reply with quote

Di-lovers, monarchists, film buffs out in force at opening day of 'The Queen?
October 14, 2006 - 14:02

By: LEE-ANNE GOODMAN


Actress Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II in a scene from the film "The Queen." (AP/Miramax Films, Laurie Sparham)



TORONTO (CP) - It's been close to a decade since Princess Diana died, but Beverly Harris still has a Diana pillow on her couch and a Diana calendar on her wall.

"I just loved her - she was so special," Harris said after taking in the Canadian opening of "The Queen," the critically acclaimed docudrama about Queen Elizabeth's initial refusal to publicly respond to Diana's sudden death in a Paris car crash in 1997.

Harris, a retired doctor who would describe herself only as "almost as old as the Queen," was one of hundreds of people who packed two downtown theatres on Friday to take in the film. It stars Helen Mirren in a remarkable performance that's being touted as a shoo-in for an Oscar nod.

Crowds lined up outside the Cumberland Theatre for an hour before the early-afternoon screenings, with one ticket-taker saying he'd rarely seen the venue so packed on a weekday afternoon. The film opens in other cities across Canada over the next two weeks.

Actor Eugene Levy and film-maker Gail Singer were among those catching the Stephen Frears production. Levy said he went to the film with high expectations but "The Queen" was even better than he'd anticipated.

Indeed, critics have raved almost universally about the movie, with Peter Howell calling it one of the year's best films. Others have lauded the performances of Mirren and Michael Sheen, who uncannily channels the boyish charm and energy of Tony Blair without once veering into caricature.

The film, in fact, is as much about the developing relationship between Blair and the Queen as it is anything else as the freshly elected prime minister, over the course of six days, doggedly convinces Elizabeth to forgo protocol and tradition and reach out publicly to her grief-stricken, and increasingly angry, British subjects.

Mirren plays a Queen torn between two worlds - the stiff-upper-lip one she was raised in, and the bewildering modern-day one where her subjects need hugs, love and reassurance. But she's motivated by another, more human sentiment - she didn't like Diana and resented the damage she felt her former daughter-in-law had inflicted upon the British monarchy.

In a film redolent with memorable moments, a couple stand out: Blair's impassioned defence of Elizabeth to a cynical aide as the prime minister angrily points out the selfless and near-flawless way she's served her country since she was barely out of girlhood.

And another: a constantly wincing Prince Charles, played brilliantly by Alex Jennings, reminding the Queen as she continues to dig in her heels that Diana was a magnificent mother unafraid to show love and affection to her boys, a clear rebuke of Elizabeth's own mothering skills. Perhaps a flight of fancy in a film that is otherwise said to be remarkably factual - Frears says the Queen's best friend saw the movie and gave it the thumbs-up - it's a painful scene to watch as Elizabeth is clearly stung by the comment.

But it's also the moment when the Queen starts to reconsider her feelings about Diana and her belief that the mourning masses and Fleet Street will soon "come to their senses" and stop hounding her to respond.

Frears shows admirable restraint in his treatment of Diana - she is glimpsed only in newsreel footage, and the screen simply fades to black as her limo hurtles its way into the infamous Paris tunnel where it crashes. Her two heartbroken boys, Princes William and Harry, are never seen head-on in the film, though their presence looms large as the Queen frets constantly about their emotional wellbeing while the family remains at their Balmoral retreat in remote Scotland in the aftermath of Di's death.

There were no Union Jacks being waved among the movie-goers but the theatre was clearly crammed with people who knew their Royal Family and giggled knowingly at the many "inside details" the film purports to reveal about life behind the palace walls.

The Queen dissing her sister, the Queen Mother sipping a martini before noon, an ever-awkward Charles trying to get Blair to persuade Elizabeth to honour Diana because he's too frightened to do it himself, Prince Philip's insistence that his grandsons simply needed to gun down some stags on the Scottish highlands to cope with the death of their beloved mother - all of it delighted the audience.

"I loved it; it was smart and moving and beautifully acted," said Kerry Radke, 54. "I'm going home to have a big cup of tea."

Radke fully admitted to being fascinated by the Royal Family and therefore determined to catch the opening day of "The Queen."

"My dad was British, and my grandparents were very British so I grew up with all the tea and all that stuff so anything to do with the Queen, I'd come out to see," she said.

The movie is indeed a fascinating look at how Blair finally convinces the Queen that she's made a rare but terrible miscalculation, and to return to London from Scotland and address the nation.

As the ordeal unfolds, a relationship of mutual respect and affection develops between Elizabeth, who initially treats her new prime minister as a bothersome rookie, and Blair, whose wife accuses him of falling for the Queen as he comes to admire her intelligence, her sly wit and her stoicism.

"At the end of the day, every Labour prime minister goes gaga over the Queen," Cherie Blair says with a sigh.

It's a film that's been eagerly anticipated by Mirren fans, monarchists and those who still believe Diana "got royally screwed," in the words of one audience member, 79-year-old Noreen Smith.

Andrew Ellsworth, editor-in-chief of TheMonarchy.ca - dubbed the unofficial website of the Canadian monarchy - said he's deeply disappointed he'll have to wait until November before the film is shown in Moncton, N.B.

"Everyone is excited about this movie," he said Friday. "I think it reminds us that Her Majesty is a real person who faces tragedy and hard times like the rest of us. This film supposedly highlights that unique ability of our Canadian Queen, who has given us a life of service over the past 50 years while constantly adapting to changing times yet still providing us with a sense of tradition, dignity, and continuity."
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