A graceful hue surrounds tonight’s quintessentially British premiere – and rightly so. We are in the presence of royalty. Still smouldering from its recent success at the Venice Film Festival, Stephen Frears' The Queen trumpeted its way into London’s Mayfair last night, with the elegantly sassy Helen Mirren leading the parade. As this is a film centred around Elizabeth II, despite the international acclaim, the acid test will come later this week when the movie hits screens across the UK. Mirren is eagerly expectant: “I can’t wait. There really is nothing like a home crowd, so I’m both nervous and excited”.
Mirren is no stranger to playing women of stature. As Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennison, the actress cemented herself within the public psyche as the classic, resolute “don’t mess with me” TV heroine. But the Queen? Surely an entirely different swathe of ermine? “It was terrifying. Absolutely terrifying” said Mirren. “I’m not a good impersonator, but when I started researching the role, I really began to love this person and I felt I understood her. So I wanted to give to her all the humanity I believe she has”. And she does, with a elegantly focused performance as the most famous resident of SW1. Unfortunately, her co-star Michael Sheen – returning to the Frears’ stable as the nascent PM Tony Blair – cannot attend this evening’s celebrations, but the bumptious Director is keen to point out that the actor’s parents are in the theatre: “His dad’s wonderful…a Jack Nicholson look-alike!”. Hurrah. As the film primarily takes place during the days following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, Sheen’s stupendously entertaining performance as the Prime Minister is coloured by New Labour’s victory in the ’97 election: “It was a good time for him [Blair]” said Frears. “I suppose he might come and see the film for nostalgia reasons”.
So, with some rustling of the royal ruff, the guests are ushered to their seats. The last word should probably go to the helmer – when asked about his future plans his reply was comically regal: “That’s it. I’m abdicating!”