TV on DVD Review: The Queen (2009)

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As compelling as it is stunningly well-made for UK's Channel 4 network, you'd be hard-pressed to find even the faintest trace of dust in this welcome diversion to the traditionally stuffy costume drama approach usually taken when documenting the lives of British monarchs.

Although the title and topic may initially confuse viewers into assuming they're watching Stephen Frears' Oscar winning portrait of Elizabeth II starring Helen Mirren, this five-part 2009 British TV miniseries goes into greater depth about Her Majesty, by chronicling some of the most significant events that occurred over fifty years in Elizabeth Windsor's dramatic reign.

To illustrate the ways that Elizabeth II changed with the times but stayed true to her core beliefs, we see five distinct shades of the woman as the filmmakers cast a different actress to portray the Queen during every decade covered in the succinct yet fact-packed episodes that each play out over less than an hour on disc.

Maximizing the admittedly short running times by loading the events up with an ambitious amount of information that inspires you to seek out additional answers on your own, the miniseries utilizes fictional dramatization of behind-closed-doors conversations, historical research, eye-opening audio and video news footage, crucial narration, revealing interviews, and candid photography to break down the barriers between the monarchy and the viewing masses.

The result is a thrilling work of entertainment that humanizes a queen whom many of us had perhaps judged harshly in light of some popular propagandist coverage particularly during the paparazzi fueled scandals that surrounded Charles and Diana as well as Andrew and Fergie in the 1990s.

However, the filmmakers certainly weren't kidding around with the title! Far too often we find ourselves wishing we were given an even bigger picture to uncover just what was going on with other family members and acquaintances when not being cited in anecdotes or arguments from Princess Margaret's shocking love for a older, then-married war hero turned staffer or Princess Anne's bravery under fire while thwarting a bold kidnapping attempt.

Obviously to cover the whole picture and all sides, we'd have to focus on much more than the Queen but this is certainly enough to whet our appetite. Likewise, it stays true to its thesis and the recurring theme of Elizabeth's constant push and pull with tradition and precedents of the past including the way other indiscretions had been handled such as Edward VIII's abdication of the throne before she was called upon to become the sovereign at the age of twenty-five.

Similarly, it's particularly intriguing when detailing Elizabeth's internal battles with regard to wanting to expand her role by using any influence she may have on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to end apartheid in South Africa.

To this end, The Queen covers more territory than one may have been expecting going into the miniseries, especially in light of so many Charles and Diana biopics that were popular a decade ago, since most titles centering on her reign emphasized the scandals rather than the struggles to use the royal position wisely.

And needless to say, any one of these episodes would probably make its own compelling movie if expanded on or studied in greater detail. Likewise, it's important to remember that there are many other points-of-view to ponder as the work invites a more complicated, conflicting look at the royals than we're traditionally offered.

Nonetheless, The Queen reigns supreme throughout each and every consistent installment, evoking a wide range of emotions from start to finish including some you may not have anticipated in an intellectually stimulating exploration of just what it means to be a royal.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.