Circumstances of watching it: ploni_bat_ploni called me last week and suggested it for that evening, so in a fit of uncharacteristic spontaneity I agreed.
Verdict: The Queen is well acted but insubstantial.
I agree with papersky that there's something morally dubious about making a film like this about real people who are still alive and their feelings about people who are very recently dead. It's worse than RPF because it's a big Hollywood movie with a very wide distribution, rather than something for a few friends to giggle over. Also, because I clearly remember the events in question (Diana's funeral was the day of my sister's bat mitzvah), it is inevitable that I am going to quarrel with the film's interpretation of things.
That said, the film did not make me wince as much as it easily might have done, in great part because Mirren is a fantastic actress, and it was worth seeing just for her. I didn't find her totally plausible as HM, but if you treated the whole film as sheer fiction it was a fascinating character piece. I like the way the queen was portrayed as a person, with her own feelings, and little character details like her love of the countryside and her dogs and her background as a mechanic during WW2, without ignoring the fact that she is actually the queen and was brought up to rule and has done so for 50 years.
I think the film also did a good job of representing the media frenzy over the former princess' death. One point it made clearly was how utterly inappropriate it was to use condolence books and flowers for anti-monarchy messages and personal attacks on the Queen and Prince Charles. I didn't really think of that at the time, the way it was so blatant that the professed public grief was purely self-indulgent and without any real sympathy for the mourners. There was a lovely scene with a vox pop of someone saying what a terrible tragedy it was that people couldn't just leave Diana in peace, after all she'd done for so many people. That really summarized the irony of the whole situation very well.
The aspect that I really didn't like was the portrayal of Blair. This is likely my bias because I really can't stand Blair, so I expect my reaction is similar to the one that lefties would have in the extremely unlikely event of a film being made that was sympathetic to Thatcher. But the film portrays him as extremely naive, which is one thing Blair absolutely isn't. I strongly doubt he's the kind of knee-jerk royalist the script defines, nor that someone of his background would be so totally ignorant of how things work among the upper classes. It is true that Blair was shockingly young in 1997, and I'm not denying that Sheen gave a solid performance of the character, it's just that I don't think that character has any relation to the real Blair. To Sheen's credit, in the later scenes, he got the Blair cheesy grin and his whole body language exactly spot on, and I could just see the unmistakable Blair mannerism taking a few months to develop after the election.
The film was also very cruel to the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen Mother, and Cherie Booth. Prince Philip is well known for being a total moron anyway, but Syms' ugly, querulous, inhumane Queen Mother did her a real discredit. I don't like Cherie very much, but I can not imagine her saying anything so stupid as
we don't have a constitution, and in general the film makes her the imbecilic fall guy to Blair's noble hero. Oh, and Jenning's Prince Charles is way too good-looking to work, in spite of his not insignificant acting skill. There were a few weird anachronisms too, such as TV sets from at least ten years earlier than the 1997 setting of the film, but that's rather a pedantic quibble.
The other weakness of the film is that it doesn't have an ending. There is the whole drama of the week between Diana's death and the funeral, with the royal family oblivious to the mood of the public right up to the brink of causing a civil war. After all that build up, the country eventually got the highly choreographed state funeral they were baying for, and then what? The final scene of the film is very weak as an ending, though nicely done as a scene; it shows Blair's first official consultation with the Queen who first puts him thoroughly in his place and then switches into being totally professional and sympathetic to him. Although that did a very good job of conveying what sort of person and what sort of monarch the Queen is, it didn't do a very good job of bringing the film to a satisfying climax.
The other problem with the film is that it made me very depressed about just how much the UK has gone downhill since 1997. The more so since I saw it the same week as the vote to make an utter, unbelievable hash of what remains of the House of Lords. I should probably talk about my opinions about that trainwreck in more detail actually, but the short version is that I am sickened that Blair has got away with such a blatant measure to remove the last vestiges of any checks on the PM's personal power.
Also, GIP. For reviews of things that aren't books, and general cultural noodling. I think I should restrict the letters one to stuff that's directly related to languages and words. Amusingly, the first step in making it was googling for a picture of a purple mandlebrot, and one of the first hits that came up was redbird's purple mandelbrot icon.