Princess Diana and the end of civility
The Queen is the first film to be made about the woman who has presided over England for half a century. The story deals with the days following Princess Di’s fatal crash in 1997 and the personal challenge her death might have posed for the monarchy’s public relations. The same period saw Prime Minister Tony Blair’s ascendancy to power. The story gives Blair credit, where the queen appeared to faulter, for recognizing Diana as being the “People’s Princess.” And then some.
Asked about his fawning depiction of Tony Blair as man of the hour, director Stephen Frears thought it “a mark of my incredible maturity” to cast Blair in the light of his glory days, this at a time when Blair and his government have fallen irrecoverably, adding that “it’s preposterous that he’s not in jail.” In the interview Frears also makes light of whether Queen Elizabeth II is possibly really as bright as her character portrayed by Hellen Mirren. The Queen celebrates the resolve of royal blood facing a crisis. Elizabeth is both humanized and lionized, by sticking to the stiff upper lip “the world expects of us.” Frears interweaves real news footage of celebrities and the flowers flooding the Buckingham Palace gates, counting the days from Lady Di’s death to the climax when the queen finally makes her long delayed statement.
That’s when Frears lies. He lays the behind the scenes personal anguish which might have explained the dishonor the royals paid to Diana, leading to the Queen’s famous address, but then rewrites the ending. As if Mighty Casey, his vainglorious ambitions thwarted in the minor leagues, stays true to his character that day in Mudville, and now because we can all feel a little sympathy for the self-centered fella, he swings and DOES NOT strike out!!
We all were there when Queen Elizabeth took to the microphone, and no close-ups of a fictional Tony Blair’s tearing eyes, proud of his stalwart sovereign, are going to recast the disgraceful blue-blooded reaction for what it was.
And what of lingering accusations of the royal family being behind Diana’s death? What of the rape tape which Diana posited with a servant for safe-keeping which tells, it’s conjectured because the British press are forbidden to tell us, of Prince Charles interrupted sodomizing a valet. What of Lady Diana being, not even arguably, by the power of her personality, the most powerful woman in the world? But unlike Oprah or Martha Stewart, Diana was a loose cannon championing the cause of AIDs in Africa, and the fight to ban land mines, both subjects the powers that be, certainly in America, did/do not want highlighted.
The Queen‘s smartest character, Tony Blair’s advisor who supposedly coins the term People’s Princess is let to murmur early on, “It wasn’t the press that killed her.” But the subject is dropped there. Instead Blair and his crew seize upon Diana’s death like Mayor Giuliani to 9/11, being seen offering bedside comfort to a traumatized populace, and reaping the accolades. Except director Frears offers nothing behind such scenes. Blair is shown as the earnest surrogate, standing in for his monarch until she can regrasp the helm.
With the ensuing years having shown us Blair’s true colors, what do you think was the more likely scenario? A self-effacing Danny Kaye Pauper Prince or a Rudy Giuliani? I find Frears’ characterization of Blair even more disingenuous, showing Tony living in a modest flat strewn with children’s messes, taking the dinner plates to do the “washing up,” and keeping watch on world events on a television with a Nintendo game atop it. This coming from a “labor” minister who was leading the conservative counter-revolution to restructure the British economy for the elites. Perhaps Frears’ adopted class.
The Queen owes its entire first act to Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911, the music, the build, the black out of the familiar awful moment, and the protracted montage we needed to absorb the tragedy and understand how it’s changed us.
The great disservice that Stephen Frears does to history, and to all of us because we are still living it, is amplified by the fact that he did get Diana’s death right. Princess Di’s sudden death did change the world, perhaps more than did 9/11. The World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 was a comeuppance. If the American people did not see it coming, the world did. That such a terrorist act was bound to happen was attested to the fact that the same people had already tried it and at the very same location.
But Diana’s death marked the end of civility, and people felt it. The third world may have been fit to burst under the weight of its post-colonial oppressors, but a great English civility had prevailed since the days of Ghandi. This was a sense that disagreement could be visceral, but apart from the brutality of the unwashed French or the uncouth Americans, a British sense of decency would rule out. Britain, not long ago the Empire, was where we got the rule of law, our rights, and everyone’s concept of a representational parliament.
The circumstances around Diana’s death would present an incredibly interesting lesson in power usurped from the people; Tony Blair’s arrangement with Rupert Murdoch for starters, instead of showing Blair reacting to the newspapers and coaxing his old queen along. The Queen is a marvelous story of two people facing adversity introspectively. Fine, except those personages were at the center of the unification of global corporate power and could not have been idle participants. As if Frears had made a film about the Titanic and chose to focus on the captain’s preoccupation with feng shui.
The 1990s saw a decline in every aspect of benevolent leadership, and I believe the premature death of Lady Diana was the curtain. It was hard those days after her death to imagine a world without her, and indeed events have proved that we were to face the worst. The turn of the century marked the ascendency of the Neocons, the political face of the globalization overlords. It meant corporate overseers with gloves off, Zionist zealotry unabashed, banks with no limits on their usury, and the world media watchdogs in the hands of the wolves.
The ruling few have their hands bloody in genocides the world over, endless wars, massacres, slavery, epidemics, poverty, famine and reckless abandonment. Before Diana’s death at least I believe they would have been concerned to wash the blood off.