19 March 2009

The Queen

This is actually a fairly remarkable movie. Far more than just the story of the aftermath of Princess Di's death, it's a complex reflection on public emotion and political power, on monarchy in the age of democracy and the affective links between a queen and her people, and also on politics and the media. Really fascinating.

There's a fascinating unstated comparison in the film between the Queen and Princess Di - subtly alluded to, for instance, in footage in which Di is asked if she thinks she will ever be Queen (the answer: "No"), but also in the implicit contrast between the Queen's desire to keep her life and feelings private and Di's tendency to live in the spotlight. Di's openness, it's suggested, is part of what people loved about her - she didn't hide her faults, she made herself completely available to the people. The Queen, in contrast, fiercely guards her privacy, and clearly finds so much public disclosure unseemly. What's interesting about this is that there's a kind of vague claim in the film that people in such a position of political power - especially a position that implicitly demands not only the obedience of its subjects, but also their love - actually owe it to their public to be vulnerable and emotional. Di's death was experienced as a catastrophic tragedy by people all over the world, but especially by British subjects, and the Queen was therefore in some way obligated to partake in that mourning in an explicitly public way. This isn't just about decency and respect for the dead, but about some kind of national process of working through trauma. That alone makes the movie fascinating.

Secondly, however, there's this really interesting interplay between the Queen and Tony Blair. Blair gets elected as a great modernizer, which would seem to automatically put him into an antagonistic relationship with the monarchy. And indeed, later in the film his wife - who's a fiery revolutionary type - faults him for "going gaga" over the Queen. And indeed, you can see how, over the course of the film, he comes to this kind of respectful awe of her, even as he's increasingly frustrated by her behavior. It actually called to mind, for me, the passage in Reflections on the Revolution in France, when Edmund Burke goes gaga over Marie Antoinette. Anyhow, there's this kind of interesting tension there - it appears to be a moment in which public outcry is so great that one could make a big for doing away with the monarchy entirely (because her disapproval is as high as 25% - which is considered APPALLING. What were the numbers like during Bush's last days in office again?), and instead, he saves the day, and, the movie implies, the crown. And by the end of the movie they're jolly friends. 

Finally, I couldn't help but think that the film is perhaps dangerously seductive - I have no idea what actually went on after Diana's death, but the movie presents a very persuasive account, and I'm willing to bet that most people who see it will - even perhaps unconsciously - assume that it's an accurate depiction. I mean, I guess that's fairly standard stuff, but somehow it seems more unfair to me with this movie than usual. I dunno.

Still, really a phenomenal movie, I think.

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