seeing the queen

No I didn't actually get to meet the Queen of England. She did pop down to Singapore earlier last year, her second visit to the republic and one-time British colony, I heard she went to Toa Payoh, where she met the man she first met years ago on her first visit.

Had I watched "The Queen" before that, I might have even dragged myself down to see this enigmatic woman for myself.

I just caught the much-lauded Stephan Frears film this evening, and it was well worth the hype. On many levels, it is a deeply moving and even-handed handling of a delicate subject matter, involving the lives and reputations of many people still alive and in the public eye today. Compared with the current American trend for making films that often idealise those who have passed, the British inclination towards present subjects seems far more courageous and interesting to me (I would love to see that happen one day in Singapore).

I don't have to go into how Helen Mirren has subtly but powerfully humanise the Queen for audiences - read for yourself in gushy reviews in your local paper. I love how the film shows the sometimes seemingly callous side of the royals - "Diana manages to be even more annoying when dead," said the haughty Prince Phillip in the film - but allows us to judge for ourselves whose side to take.

It's amazing how unjudgemental the film manages to be. Coming from a background where kings and queens are creatures of myth and fairy tales, watching "The Queen" was like a delightful look into a world so strangely quaint and yet endlessly fascinating. And first impressions count - the film could have either left me shaking my head at the out-of-touch attitudes of some of the royals, or an admirer of their stoicism under pressure. The movie allows you to make that decision yourself - no preachy tone telling you which one is "right."

I especially liked the hunted stag metaphor throughout the film. A beautiful relevatory touch, it said so much about the point the filmmakers wanted to make without screaming it into your ears (Last year's maker of "Crash" could have learnt a thing or two).

Perhaps the Queen understood a little of the late Princess Diana's allure when she murmured to herself "so beautiful" when she caught sight of the stag. Perhaps the public fascination with Princess Diana has to do with escapism and a bit of fantasy to distract from burdens of everyday life - Prince Phillip says stalking the stag will help distract "the boys" (the Princes William and Harry) from their grief and the media sensation following the princess's death.

It seemed absurb for the Queen to feel so strongly when she heard of the stag's death, especially when she was protrayed to be considerably less grieved by the news of Diana's death. But perhaps she reacted more emotionally because she finally understood what kind of tragedy Diana's death - unnecessary, unavoidably a product of our modern obsession with celebrity and the disregard for privacy.

One way or another, the movie deserves all its accolades (and more) for provoking so many questions and managing to be so many things - a depiction of a subject of mystery; a look at the relevance of monarchy; a questioning of modern values; and even an exploration of media and spin. This sure-to-be- Oscar-nominated film will definitely be so much more interesting than the dresses at the Oscars.


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