I recall watching the news during the week leading up to her funeral and I was a tad embarrassed by how the British folks were blubbering and ball babying over her death. You would have thought their firstborns had been killed.
Columnist, George Will, captured my feeling about the ridiculous catharsis in one of his Newsweek The Last Word columns. Entitled A Week of Sheer Fakery (Newsweek, 9/15/97), Will wrote,
Evidently many scores of millions of people lead lives of such anesthetizing boredom, emotional aridity and felt insignificance that they relish any opportunity for vicarious involvement in large events. And Princess Diana’s death has been a large event precisely and only because the public, in a spontaneous act of mass parasitism, has fastened onto the event for the catharsis of emotional exhibitionism.
Even by the standards of today’s confessional culture, people certainly have been remarkably “sharing” with their “feeling” about Diana. They have been sharing them with strangers, and their feelings have been about the death of a stranger who, they say, although she never made laws or poetry or shoes or butter, nevertheless “made a difference” and mattered to them more than they knew until she died. The media have been more than merely dutiful in reporting on the “grief” from which millions have been “suffering.” Listening to language used this way is like watching an infant play with a Steuben vase.
As an added bonus to the thousands of Londoners camping out in front of Buckingham Palace, I was also intrigued by the little drama playing out behind the scenes with Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal family. The people were outraged the Queen refused to publicly wallow with them on their ash heap. She made no official statement acknowledging the death of Diana and she insisted upon keeping their funeral plans a private matter.
By mid-week following Diana’s death, there was still no word from the Queen, and the public complained of her cold unemotionalism and were suggesting via polls to get rid of the monarchy. It wasn’t until the week’s end did she emerge from her privacy and visit the thousands of flower arrangements crowded around the palace entrance and gave a televised statement expressing the Royal Family’s personal gratitude to her British subjects and their faithful support.
In light of these events, one of the better movies I have seen this past year is called The Queen starring Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II and Michael Sheen as Tony Blair.
The film is a docudrama chronicling the unknown events that played out between Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister Tony Blair during the week in between Diana’s fatal accident and the national memorial service. While we only saw what the media decided to show us about why the Queen was behaving the way she was in response to the public mourning over Diana’s death, the movie provides us a sympathetic vantage point into the real reason’s behind her reaction.
Now, like with any docudrama, I am sure there are made up elements to the story to give it the extra emotional appeal. Obviously we can’t be privy to specific details to every conversation that took place, so there has to be some semi-accurate “made-up” parts to fill gaps. I certainly didn’t watch this film believing it presented faithfully word-for-word what happened between the primary characters. That being said, however, the writer of the screen play did interview hundreds of people close to both the Royal family and Tony Blair’s administration who provided otherwise unknown information he could use to flesh out his story.
I say the film is one of the better ones I have seen, because it paints a respectable picture of the British monarch and her commitment to the Royal traditions she represented. She wasn’t being cold and heartless in her response to Diana’s death, she merely wished to deal with a situation in a dignified, tasteful manner instead of with the soul crushing emotionalism the public demanded.
In addition, I also went away from watching the movie having better respect for Tony Blair. In spite of the fact he was a Labor Party prime minister who was considered by many as being progressive, and a non-conservative and non-traditionalist, he actually attempted to protect Queen Elizabeth from being bullied by the media and public, while helping her understand the change in modern times and her need to be visible to her subjects.
The movie is a tad slow in places, but the actors are superb and the film makers keep the scenes moving along so that it doesn’t become tedious. The rare insight into the lives of major, national figures, and the previously unseen perspective of the aged monarch, grants her a fresh respectability as a human being trying to maintain dignity in an otherwise hostile public environment.
It’s worth the rent.