Queens of France and England

Why are we so interested in royals and Royalty? Is it their power, prestige or inbreeding? Certainly they live in a different world from the rest of us, and a couple of recent films make this point quite well.

The Queen

A watchable new take on the death of Diana.

This fictionalised biopic shows the early weeks of Tony Blair’s government in the U.K. and the development of his relationship with Queen Elizabeth II in the context of the death of Lady Di. The events of this film date back to 1997, so we’re talking almost 10 years ago now, but the impact still resonates today.

There are still unresolved conspiracy theories around Diana Spencer’s death. Blair is still in power and his government has led significant changes in the U.K. and on the world stage. The health of the monarchy in the U.K. continues to be debated. All of this stretches back to the material in this film, that weaves together fact and fiction seamlessly. We can really believe in this version of the characters.

The film also presents the massive contrast between the worlds of the U.K. Prime Minister and the U.K. Head of State. However, this is done with balance and a respectful touch. Both royalists and republicans will find something to enjoy in this.

I was surpised to find myself feeling considerable sympathy for Queen Elizabeth by the end of it all. Credit for this has to go in large part to Helen Mirren who carries the title role admirably.

My rating: 3.5 stars
***1/2

Marie Antoinette

Cinematic but slow.

Sofia Coppola casts Kirsten Dunst as the last Queen of France before the revolution. No, really. However, it’s quite clever, and together with a modern soundtrack lifts the historical Marie Antoinette character out of mythology (“let them eat cake!”) into a place where we can relate and almost empathise with her. This is the principle achievement in this period drama filmed entirely on location in France.

Coppola has based the movie on a book, but it could have been a picture book. There is little dialogue, but an emphasis on stunning visuals. Initially, I found this helpful to maintain the same sense of wonder than Marie Antoinette was clearly feeling at the same time. But as the film wore on, this feeling wore out. It all became rather dull.

Lost in Translation, Coppola’s previous film, has a similar feel, but it wasn’t as sparse and not as long. Marie Antoinette runs for two hours, and I was fidgeting a bit by the end. I think I would’ve preferred to flick through a coffee table book with photos of Versailles, clothing, shoes and food, rather than sit through a showing of the same images at the chosen pace.

My rating: 2.0 stars
**

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