Although this Stephen Frears-directed film may seem to have a more natural home on the small screen, a magnificent performance from Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II gives it enough oomph to translate well to the cinema. Taut writing from Peter Morgan, whose credits also include television dramas 'Henry VIII', 'Colditz' and a previous collaboration with Frears on the 2003 Tony Blair/Gordon Brown TV film 'The Deal', includes plenty of laugh-out-loud moments amidst the turmoil and tragedy.
Set in the week following the Paris car crash which killed Princess Diana and her lover, Dodi Fayed, in August 1997 'The Queen' contrasts the old British worlds of tradition and stiff-upper-lips with the new one of political spin. This is personified in the interactions between the Queen herself and the then recently elected Prime Minister, Tony Blair (Sheen, reprising his 'The Deal' role). While the Royal family remain in private mourning, unseen behind the walls of Balmoral Castle in Scotland, the press - perhaps to deflect focus from their own role in Diana's death - stoke public demand for the Queen's presence in London.
Frears' rich but speculative day-by-day account of events, combined with real life footage and news clips, will appeal to the voyeur in everyone, as he goes behind closed doors to show a desperately dysfunctional Royal family in crisis and the inner workings of Blair's PR-savvy office. Heavy-handed symbolism aside, 'The Queen' is a fascinating - and occasionally hilarious - portrait of the tensions between the old and the new.