Saturday, January 30, 2016

2006: Helen Mirren for The Queen

In the title role, Helen Mirren plays Queen Elizabeth II during one of the most difficult weeks of her reign, immediately following the death of Princess Diana.

This is one of the best examples of perfect casting I can think of. True, Mirren doesn't look exactly like Queen Elizabeth, or capture all her mannerisms perfectly, but that's not really the point. In the context of this movie, she's the perfect Queen. She is poised and regal and disciplined, yet still very human. I think that's what makes this movie so powerful; it allows us to empathize with someone who is so often seen and portrayed as lofty and removed from us common folk. Indeed, as shown in the film, that's what most people thought of her in the days following Diana's death. But the way Mirren portrays her, those people seem incredibly wrong. She is dignified and reserved, but by no means cold and unfeeling.

It definitely helps that the script puts a positive spin on her position, but a lot of the credit has to go to Mirren, since this has to be an exceedingly difficult role to play, and she pulls it off so brilliantly. She couldn't make her too regal or she wouldn't be accessible to the audience, but she also couldn't make her too relatable or she wouldn't be a realistic monarch. Somehow Mirren finds that perfect spot in the middle so that we believe she's spent her whole life in a palace but is in many ways just a normal human being. She is always dignified, but much less so when she's by herself or with just her family than when she's around other people, and I like the way she shows that difference. It's subtle, but still noticeable. Her face is not incredibly expressive, but it's apparent that she feels more deeply than she lets on, and it's decades of self-discipline that keep her from showing these feelings to the world. Because of this, we can see where the people are coming from when they criticize her for not sharing their grief, but we can also tell that she does share it, just not in the same way they do.

In short, Helen Mirren was the perfect person to play the Queen in this movie. She completely embodies the role, and without that, the movie could not have worked. Unlike some of the films I've blogged about recently, which I think should have won more or different Oscars than Best Actress, I think it's absolutely appropriate that Helen Mirren won this film's only Academy Award. Overall it's a really good movie, but Mirren's brilliant performance is at its core.

This was Mirren's third Oscar nomination, and her first in the leading category. She was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actress for 1994's The Madness of King George and 2001's Gosford Park. She has since been nominated once more for her leading role in 2009's The Last Station. She was nominated for a Golden Globe this year, but didn't get an Oscar nomination. She's such a wonderfully talented actress that I'll be surprised if she doesn't get another nomination at some point.

Is it just me, or was there a sudden influx of portrayals of real people winning Best Actress around the turn of the century? This was the sixth time in eight years that it happened, and the following year it happened again, when Marion Cotillard played Edith Piaf. So stay tuned for that.

No comments:

Post a Comment