The Queen (12A)

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The Independent Culture

In 2003, Michael Sheen starred in The Deal, a TV drama about Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's friendship through their years in parliament. Now Sheen teams up again with The Deal's writer, Peter Morgan, and its director, Stephen Frears, for a film which could have been called The Deal Part 2: When Tony Met Liz. It begins with Blair's very regal ascension to Downing Street, and his first sheepish prime ministerial meeting with the Queen, played by Helen Mirren. The action then jumps forward to the death of Diana. The royals close ranks on their Balmoral estate, but as the tabloids try to draw fire from their own guilt by sniping at the Queen, it's up to the young moderniser to convince her that times have changed, and that a public show of emotion is required.

The Queen examines the way that power never resides for long with the Government, the monarchy, the media or the populace, but circulates between them all. It also humanises people we're accustomed to seeing as icons or demons. At first, the scenes of the Windsors sitting around, watching the news in their dressing-gowns, can seem uncannily like an old Spitting Image sketch, but the caricatures soon deepen into characters in their own right. The crowning achievement of Morgan's subtle and sympathetic script is to portray all of his protagonists as decent and doubt-racked, with the notable and entirely understandable exception of Alastair Campbell. Mirren's performance as Queen Elizabeth is particularly remarkable, because she has to convey anger, mischief and bewilderment while playing someone who takes pride in holding her feelings in check. Put your money on her for a Bafta now.

In keeping with The Deal, The Queen looks more like a TV drama than a big-screen movie, but it's worth seeing at the cinema anyway, because writing and acting which are this nuanced deserve your undivided attention. It's very funny, too. The tastiest piece of dramatic irony comes when one of Blair's aides shouts, "Gordon's on the phone", and he snaps back: "Tell him to wait." Almost as delicious is the look on Sheen's face when the PM telephones HRH, and he's put on hold - not something that happens to him very often. We are amused, as the Queen's great-great-grandmother might have said. Let's hope that Morgan spent the past fortnight taking notes for The Deal Part 3.