Will history look back upon the past 60 years as the Second Elizabethan Age? Stephen Daldry’s production of The Audience answers with a Queen’s English-accented “yes.” The West End play that reunited Helen Mirren, in her Oscar-winning role as Elizabeth II, with the writer of The Queen, Peter Morgan, was finally available for New Yorkers to see when a live HD stream of the stage production screened as an exclusive engagement from National Theatre Live at the Brooklyn Academy of Music June 15. Considering the abundance of exciting theater in New York it may seem hard to imagine how a projection of a filmed play onto a movie screen could be “an event.” Except that we still don’t know if The Audience will ever cross the Pond. If it does, only the royal yacht Brittania could possibly stow all the Tonys it will win.
The Queen lives a life of performance. Being Sovereign is a role she’s adopted in what may be the longest-recorded display of method acting in history, at least according to Morgan. The Audience takes us through all six decades of the Queen’s reign, with the 67-year-old Mirren equally at home playing 26, Elizabeth’s age upon assuming the throne, and 86. Mirren’s changes in posture and bearing — from ramrod and regal in 1952 to stooped in 2013 — along with some padding and five different wig changes, sell the effect. She hopscotches back and forth through time, with each scene taking the form of her weekly meeting with the Prime Minister, a conference at Buckingham Palace the PMs refer to as “The Audience.”
Morgan’s selective with his presentation of history, grouping scenes thematically, rather than chronologically, and focusing on only eight of the twelve PMs who’ve served since the Queen’s coronation. Nervous fussbudget John Major talks about using negotiating techniques he developed during peace talks in the Balkans to broker a truce between Diana and Charles, while Gordon Brown (played as an emotional wreck by former Inspector Lynley, Nathaniel Parker) vents about feeling overlooked by the Obama White House. The Queen finds an uncommon friendship in common man Harold Wilson, whose rough-and-tumble Labour views oddly intersect with her own, and tension, though not testiness, with Margaret Thatcher.
Mirren’s one scene with Haydn Gwynne as the Iron Lady is remarkable in its subtlety. A lesser playwright would have scripted a scenery-chewing showdown between the Queen and Thatcher. What’s conveyed instead is a strongly professional working relationship that could never become a true friendship. Morgan, Daldry, and Mirren aren’t interested in tabloid sensationalism — her children are barely mentioned aside from Major’s “peace talks” joke — but in revealing the Queen’s character and personality through a recurring ritual, and how her conducting of that ritual reveals the ways she’s changed over time. The maturation we see in the four years between when she first meets Churchill in 1952, when she’s still wearing her mourning black and emotionally fragile, and the strong leader who confronts Sir Anthony Eden over his hawkishness during the Suez Crisis is a beautiful ripening. It’s a prismatic view of a human life.
Artistic depictions of people in power often emphasize their “larger than life” status. But Morgan and Mirren show Queen Elizabeth as not so much a towering presence as a stabilizing force, symbolic of a continuity and grace that could never be found in party politics. “When you’ve been around for as long as I have,” Mirren’s Queen says in 2013, “The same ideas and people are bound to pop back up — just wearing a different tie.” People generally think that history repeating itself is a bad thing, a sign that we’re incapable of learning from the past. Watching The Audience, history repeating itself has never been more enlightening...or enjoyable.
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One of the most lovable comedic actors around, Ed Helms, hosted SNL this weekend and while I'd normally complain to the ends of the earth that, once again, NBC removed his monologue from their online videos of the episode, I can't do that. I still love Mr. Helms, that has not changed. However, his monologue, for those of us who saw it, was about as painful as the growing pains story it aimed to turn into comedy. It's a little strange that it was so incredibly awkward because Helms is no stranger to standup; it should have gone down without a hitch. Unfortunately, Helms was just a little flat and awkward in his monologue and throughout the episode. We still love him though!
On the upside, there were a few moments that as a human being who likes to talk to other human beings about awesome things famous human beings have done, you should really know about. (Oddly, most of them don't feature that much Helms.)
First, we have the return of Robert Smigel's Ambiguously Gay Duo cartoon, but this time it got just a little more absurd with a little bit of help from Jon Hamm, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell. Fun fact: two of these guys were the original voice actors for The Ambiguously Gay Duo. Really big hint: it's probably not Hamm or Fallon.
Then we've got yet another edition of the ridiculously overused "What Up With That" sketch, which I am only noting because after months and months of Bill Hader's silent Lindsey Buckingham impression, the real Lindsey stopped by to drop a little Fleetwood Mac action on the set. (He played guitar, you weirdos.)
Finally, it was a bit of a weak episode, but in honor of my latest addition to my list of funny lady heroines (seriously, go see Bridesmaids; it's great), Kristen Wiig busted out her usual awesome schtick as Ann Margaret trying to throw something in a wastepaper basket. The reference is probably lost on a lot of people, but Wiig makes it work.
Set primarily in the week following the death of Princess Diana when the nation was mourning for “the people’s princess ” the events largely escaped the notice of the Queen Elizabeth (Mirren) who was on vacation at her Scottish estate. Without any official statement or public expression of grief coming from Buckingham Palace public sentiment began to turn against the Queen to the point that some were calling for the end of the monarchy itself. The newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) just four months in office found himself in the difficult position of trying to convince Her Majesty that she should respond to the public outpouring of grief even though Diana was technically no longer a royal at the time of her death. There followed a dialogue between modernity and the monarchy between honoring tradition and giving into public demands. Mirren is always regal and commanding--she’s already played two queens previously--and does absolute justice to the very tricky task of portraying a living high-profile subject in a sympathetic light. We see the stiff frumpy monarch we’ve glimpsed in photographs and on television but through Mirren we also see Queen Elizabeth’s wry humor and her deep sense of honor and duty. And we see her confidence falter during this crisis in which she realizes just how horribly out of touch she has become with her subjects. Mirren’s Oscar nomination is guaranteed. Sheen takes on the role of the brash novice P.M. with great aplomb. His Blair (whom he played previously in a TV film set before The Queen) is a man who’s eager to modernize the stodgy tradition-bound British government but also someone with a surprising devotion to the Queen. He’s easily the most sympathetic character in the film. We might admire Queen Elizabeth but we can’t help genuinely liking and trusting this young populist who’s so plugged into the nation’s mood. Stage actor Alex Jennings is less effective as Prince Charles partly because he looks nothing like him. Although he’s portrayed as deeply affected by Diana’s death he comes off as spoiled and petulant. James Cromwell(Babe) is an unlikely choice to portray Prince Philip the Queen’s husband. Here he is a cranky traditionalist who decries the “celebrities and homosexuals” being invited to Diana’s funeral and and is convinced that the hordes of people crying in the streets over her will eventually “come to their senses.” On the surface a look at how Queen Elizabeth and the royal family coped with the tragedy of Diana’s death doesn’t seem the likeliest subject for a film and certainly not one that would yield such entertaining results. But director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Peter Morgan have managed to capture not just a historic moment in time when tradition and the modern world clashed but when the monarchy looked on the brink of collapse. Frears and Morgan undertook a tremendous amount of research and spoke to dozens of sources to create this surprisingly respectful peek behind closed doors of the ruling elite. One wonders if Prince Philip really calls his wife “cabbage ” but the daily routines and the milieus for the characters have an air of authenticity. The film seamlessly blends archival scenes with recreations especially impressive during Diana’s funeral. The film is restrained and subtle much like the England the queen says she admires but it has a wry sense of humor that sneaks in such as when Blair and his wife are being instructed in the necessary rituals of bowing and scraping for their first meeting with Her Majesty.
Top Story: Matt LeBlanc Weds Longtime Finacée
Matt LeBlanc, who plays Joey Tribbiani on NBC's hit sitcom Friends, married his longtime partner Melissa McKnight Saturday in a star-studded wedding on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. According to the syndicated television show Extra, the ceremony took place overlooking exclusive Anini Beach along a 12-acre cliffside property. Guests included LeBlanc's Friends co-stars Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow and David Schwimmer. Aniston's husband, Brad Pitt, and Cox's husband, David Arquette also attended. Many of the guests wore Hawaiian shirts and leis, Extra said, and feasted on a four-tiered passion fruit cake that was large enough to feed 150 people. The couple became engaged in 1998. McNight, a former model, has two children from a previous relationship.
Hopkins Honored With Silversword Award
Anthony Hopkins will be honored at the Maui Film Festival next month with the 2003 Silversword Award, The Associated Press reports. The award, named after the rare plant that blooms only on the slopes of the Haleakala volcano, honors artists for their contributions to filmmaking and to positive change in the world. The 65-year-old actor is set to attend the Silversword Award Tribute June 13 at the Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa.
Ben and J.Lo Buy Georgia Homes
Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez have bought two houses on one of Georgia's last undeveloped barrier islands, Hampton Island, the AP reports. The two newly constructed 10,000-square-foot houses are on the 2,300-acre island 35 miles south of Savannah, which was recently bought by an Atlanta developer for $16 million. The island will be developed as a low-density, luxury community. The purchase prices for the two homes were not disclosed.
Prince William Wants To Live Stateside
Prince William wants to spend a few years in New York after finishing his university degree, UK's The Sunday Mirror reports. A courtier at Buckingham Palace told the newspaper on condition of anonymity that William, 20, wants to pursue a postgraduate degree at an American college or a job with a art auction house or gallery. A spokesman for St. James' Palace did not deny the report but said no decisions about William's future have been made.
Roeper Picks Hulk Top Summer Pic
Movie critic Richard Roeper predicts the top-earning summer movie will be the PG-13 rated actioner The Hulk rather than The Matrix: Reloaded because younger fans will have a hard time getting into the R-rated sci-fi sequel. "But I got a feeling that a lot of 14- and 15-year-old boys are going to figure out a way to go see The Matrix: Reloaded," Roeper told AP Radio. "But they're going to have to buy tickets to a PG-rated movie and sneak in to Matrix, so it won't count for their box office."
FX Scraps Candidate Series
Cabler FX's has scrapped plans for its reality series American Candidate, which was to chronicle grass-roots campaigns for the 2004 presidential election as mounted by candidates selected by the show's producers, Reuters reports. According to FX entertainment president Kevin Reilly, the project had become too elaborate and expensive. But series producer R.J. Cutler said he was in talks to move the show to another TV outlet in time for its fall premiere.
King Stories Found in School Paper
Copies of the Lisbon High School newspaper The Drum from the mid-1960s may contain two of author Stephen King's earliest published works, the AP reports. A retired English teacher from Lisbon Falls, Maine discovered the newspaper copies last year and then sold them on eBay, where they fetched $400 to $800 per copy. King's personal assistant, Marcia DeFilippo, said the King has been out of town and hasn't been able to verify the work. "We don't have exact verification by Stephen right now, but we hope to have him look at the stories soon," she said.
Role Call: Hopkins Set for Alexander, Grease 3 Underway
Anthony Hopkins is negotiating to star alongside Colin Farrell in Intermedia's Alexander for director Oliver Stone. Hopkins will play the role of Ptolemy, the last surviving general in the army of Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great who went on to become the Pharoah of Egypt ... Disney is developing 3-D zombie horror movie Thrilla for director Hype Williams. The pic, set in Jamaica, revolves around a group of zombies who are suddenly awakened ... Paramount Pictures is planning Grease 3, which will be set in the late-'70s and revolve around the children of the original characters. John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, who starred in the original 1978 musical, have already been given a heads-up that their services will be sought once a script is completed, Variety reports.