Stephen Frears

Two magnificent performances - Michael Sheen as Tony Blair and Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II in The Queen (2006)

Two magnificent performances - Michael Sheen as Tony Blair and Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II in The Queen (2006)

  • Born:  1941
  • Rank:  43
  • Score:  595.20
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars / DGA / 2 BAFTA’s / Golden Globe / BFCA
  • Feature Films:  18
  • Best:  The Queen
  • Worst:  Hero

Top 5 Feature Films:

  1. The Queen – 2006
  2. Dangerous Liaisons – 1988
  3. High Fidelity – 2000
  4. The Grifters – 1990
  5. Dirty Pretty Things – 2002

Top 10 Best Director Finishes (Nighthawk Awards):

  • 1984 – 10th – The Hit
  • 1988 – 2nd – Dangerous Liaisons
  • 1990 – 4th – The Grifters
  • 2002 – 8th – Dirty Pretty Things
  • 2006 – 5th – The Queen

Stephen Frears has always been particularly successful as a British director.  By that, I mean he has a feel for Britain, especially for parts of London that most other people would rather avoid or refuse to acknowledge exists.  Which makes it of course, all the more odd that three of his best films are his least British films (of course so is his worst).  Dangerous Liaisons is a distinctly French film, albiet one with American stars.  The Grifters is a very distinctly American crime film.  And High Fidelity, a British book that takes place in London was relocated to Chicago and made very much into an American movie.  Which only goes to show that Frears not only has talent, he has range.  Because he made The Queen.  He made Dirty Pretty Things about the seamy unknown immigrant underside of London.  He directed the brilliant My Beautiful Laundrette about the Pakistani immigrants in London.  And he made the second and third parts of Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogy about the working class in Dublin.

In some ways, Frears is like Mike Leigh.  He began with one good early film in 1971, then took a long break working for British television before finally returning to film in the eighties.  Since then, he has worked consistently and successfully.  Unlike Leigh, Frears has had one mis-step (Hero), but the rest of his filmography is remarkably solid and even his oft criticized Jekyll and Hyde movie (Mary Reilly) is a better film than people give it credit for.

The Queen – #5 film of 2006

When I first saw The Queen, I kept mentioning it in the same breath as Thirteen Days.  I tried to explain to people the incredible sadness that overtook me when I saw Thirteen Days and thought about what Bobby Kennedy might have accomplished had he not died so tragically young.  And then people, before I would have a chance to explain, would assume I was referring to Diana.  But I wasn’t referring to Diana and soon I started changing my comparison.  I started taking about The Queen in reference to LBJ and what LBJ might have accomplished as president had he not gotten so wrapped up in Vietnam.  Then people started to get it.

There was a lot of talk when the film came out about Helen Mirren.  And rightfully so, of course.  Every group agreed that Mirren had given the best performance of the year.  And I mean every group.  She won the Oscar, BAFTA, SAG, Golden Globe, BFCA, NYFC, LAFC, NSFC, BSFC, CFC and NBR (in a strange sort of agreement, all the awards groups not only had the same winner, but all of those with nominees, including me chose the same four nominees as well – Kate Winslet for Little Children, Meryl Streep for The Devil Wears Prada, Penelope Cruz for Volver and Judi Dench for Notes on a Scandal — everyone knew that year what the 5 best lead performances were and they all know who was the best).  She gave a magnificent, closed, yet strangely open performance and finally got all the kudos she had always deserved.

Who got lost in the fray was Michael Sheen.  Michael Sheen gave such an absolutely magnificent performance as Tony Blair, capturing his inexperience combined with the qualities of leadership that had gotten him the Prime Minister post in the first place that not only did I give him my award for Best Supporting Actor, he actually made me think about Tony Blair himself.  And that’s where the comparison was, both to RFK and LBJ.  Blair didn’t die of course, but he got sucked into Iraq and devoted so much of his time and energy (and the lives of his soldiers) to the war that in the end, that was the most important issue to the people of Britain, much the same that had happened to LBJ.  But given Blair’s leadership, given the way he handled the Royals during the whole crisis after Diana’s death, given who he was, how much could he have accomplished with the New Labor party had he not been sidetracked by the war?  That’s how good Michael Sheen was in this role — he actually made me ask those questions.

And The Queen is not just about those two performances.  This is a masterfully made film that is well directed, very well written, acted marvelously throughout by leads and supporting alike (I never thought I would have any sympathy for Prince Charles, but I did after this film).  It is a piece of history that I lived through and yet seemed far more compelling watching it on screen then it ever did in real life.

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