The Queen and Di: film to show tensions after death of Princess

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The director Stephen Frears is to begin shooting a film about the tension between Tony Blair's government and the Royal Family in the week after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

The project, provisionally entitled The Queen, has been in planning for more than a year but is scheduled to go into production at the end of August with Helen Mirren to play the title role.

Although the full cast is not in place, Michael Sheen is expected to play Mr Blair, a reprise of the role he played two years ago in The Deal, a TV drama based on Mr Blair's relationship with Gordon Brown. But unlike The Deal, Frears' film will be a full-length feature intended for release both in Britain and around the world.

Andy Harries, the controller of drama and comedy for Granada television, which produced The Deal and has developed the new project, said there was considerable interest, particularly from Hollywood.

But the aim is to raise the £5m budget in Britain and France where it will be filmed throughout September and October for probable release next year.

Frears is finishing Mrs Henderson Presents, starring Judi Dench, about the woman who established nude revues at the Windmill Theatre in London, and is expected to pay a quick visit to Cannes in the next few days to take part in an industry workshop. He was not available for comment yesterday.

Mr Harries said The Queen was a natural progression from the work on The Deal and has been written by the same man, Peter Morgan. It was not intended to cause offence to the Royal Family and he did not think it would.

"This was an interesting and significant part of contemporary history and an event that had worldwide impact," he said. "This is a different way of looking at it through the eyes of the Royal Family and the impact it had on them. But it's not written as anti-monarchist or a piece of scandal.

"The script is really moving. It's not so much what the Queen says as what she doesn't say. Hopefully you'll watch the film and think: 'I would never have thought of seeing it from that perspective.' Of course it will ruffle feathers and some people will be unhappy, but I think people will find something interesting about it that is fully justified."

The inspiration was the idea of looking at the Royal Family itself in a fresh way, Mr Harries said. "We were looking for a subject that had a similar interest and impact to The Deal. In a sense, once one has made a film about the relationship between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, the only way to go is up. In a sense it's a small story of a family dealing with grief but it's also about one of the most famous people in the world. And there was also this energetic young prime minister, who was still loved at the time, bouncing around with his spin master. It's rich material."

Mirren was identified as a focal point for the script from very early on, he said. "We focused on Helen Mirren playing the Queen at an early stage. She's a wonderful actress and one of great depth. This is a complex piece about the Queen and she was interested in it from the beginning."

* Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett are to star in a film adaptation of Notes from a Scandal, Zoe Heller's Man Booker Prize-nominated story of a teacher's sex scandal. The script is being written by Patrick Marber, author of the play and film Closer.