Wednesday, February 14, 2007

An Assemblage Of Short Playlets

On Saturday night Joshua and I did go see the film "The Queen". We should have stayed home.

Stephen Frears began his directing career in television, and he has never been able to adapt whatever directing skills he has to the film medium. His films look like television--and not even good television--and they do not succeed on the large screen.

This is especially true of "The Queen", which actually was made as a movie for television. Given a theatrical release instead, in the theater the film looks precisely like the low-budget, quickly-put-together evening soap opera that it is.

Whoever wrote the script is not knowledgeable about the British political scene, nor is the writer knowledgeable about British Royal history. The teleplay was hackwork, and quite obviously rushed hackwork. It should have been rejected by the original producer, and reassigned to another writer.

However, the entire subject matter is rather silly, and the project obviously was designed to appeal to a lower-class British audience that keeps only half an eye--if that--on politics. Why was the decision made to give this television project a theatrical release?

The answer, no doubt, is because of Helen Mirren's portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II. Miss Mirren, as presented, looks a bit like the current British sovereign, and this resemblance gives the film whatever limited interest it holds. Miss Mirren's portrayal is not convincing, and not even particularly interesting, but there is in her performance a sly undercurrent of nervous energy just beneath the surface, and that is the only thing that makes the film watchable.

The other actors are hopelessly miscast, except for the actress who portrays Cherie Blair, in real life a very obnoxious and troubled woman. The actress that filled this small part caught the inherent disreputable rub that is such an essential component of Cherie Blair's character. As for the actors assigned to Prince Philip, Prince Charles and the Queen Mother, one could only ask "Why were these unsuitable individuals given these roles?"

Although no director could have made a success of this project, most directors could have surpassed what Stephen Frears has wrought. The film is poorly photographed and edited, and far too many of the details are wrong.

For instance, Buckingham Palace is now open to the public six weeks each year, and it is peculiar that the film makes no effort to recreate realistic interiors of the Queen's London home, as millions of persons have now toured the premises. The floors are wrong, the windows are wrong, the wall coverings are wrong, the room sizes are wrong. Should not these details, at least, have been observed in the interest of verisimilitude?

"The Queen" is the fifth Stephen Frears movie I have seen. I have also seen "Prick Up Your Ears", "Dangerous Liaisons", "The Grifters" and "Mrs. Henderson Presents". Each one of those films looked like it was assembled by a television newsroom crew, and "The Queen" follows suit. How does Frears even obtain financing for his ventures?

Frears does not have a clue what a camera can do, and he is equally clueless about film editing and sound editing. Each scene in each of his movies derives from the stage--his films are nothing more than an assemblage of short playlets, captured on film, and then strung together, daisy-chain style, into a rhythmless sequence. Could not Frears contact Martin Scorcese for some filmmaking lessons, or enroll in the film school at U.S.C.?

The best thing about "The Queen" is that it was not very long.

Josh hated the film even more than I did, which is really saying something. Every ninety seconds, he would turn to me and say "I can't believe how bad this is" or "I can't believe how dumb this is" and I would always respond "I know. It's unbelievable, isn't it?"

I think we should have gone to "The Glass Menagerie" at the Guthrie Theater instead.

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