Critics' picks: New DVDs

Mirren makes a moving, miraculous monarch

April 22, 2007|By Michael Sragow

THE QUEEN -- Miramax / $29.99

Stephen Frears' scintillating The Queen imbues the negotiations between new Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) and Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) over Princess Diana's funeral with the tension and humor Hollywood reserves for films about the Mafia.

The queen puts off any show of mourning for Diana. When Blair dubs Diana "The People's Princess," he unifies the country and shows up her antique reflexes. But what starts out as a deliciously polite black comedy about royal inertia and modernity turns into a political mating dance with unexpected feints and turns.

Screenwriter Peter Morgan finds the common ground between the prime minister, who possesses Bill Clinton-like perfect pitch for public utterance, and the formidable Old School monarch. She's reluctant to abandon her country's hallmark - the stoic reticence of the stiff upper lip - yet even more reluctant to cut herself off from her people. Sheen is excellent; Mirren, miraculous.

Special features

Morgan and Frears chat on one commentary track, British historian Robert Lacey on another. The spine-shivering moments come from Mirren on the "making-of" documentary. She closes her hand like a shell, then pulls it to the back of her head to illustrate how the Queen usually stays within her own firm notion of herself. But not always. A small girl shocks and moves the queen with a bouquet she brought to console her rather than to mourn Diana; the moment is so transcendent you're jolted when the documentary pulls back to Frears declaring, "Cut!"


AL FRANKEN: GOD SPOKE --Docurama / $26.95

As a documentary, it's no masterpiece, but as a record of a great guy on the move, it's priceless. Directors Nick Doob and Chris Hegedus follow political comedian Al Franken as he pushes a best-selling book, launches left-wing radio network Air America and begins a run for the Senate from his home state, Minnesota. Franken says, "I take what [conservatives] say and use it against them. What I do is jujitsu." He uproariously analyzes outrageous fiction, such as Brit Hume's statement that a soldier would be more likely to die on the streets of California than in Iraq. Franken's ability to stay observant, amused and genuine wins over even some right-wingers. And the deleted scenes provide extra value, for a change. They include Jon Stewart appearing on Franken's radio show and comparing the mainstream media to 6-year-olds playing soccer.

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