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Why?

Posted at 11:57 AM on February 19, 2007 by Euan Kerr

A little catching up on the Oscar nominees over the weekend leaves me with the question: why? Actually it's a series of "whys?"

There is the purist 'why?' Why did Martin Scorsese feel it was necessary to take a sleek Asian thriller "Infernal Affairs" and remake it in bloated form as "The Departed? The quick answer of course is that US audiences are reluctant to watch subtitled films, and will never see Andy Lau's film. However it's hard to resist the twists and turns of Siu Fai Mak's demonic plot so it was inevitable that it would be snapped up for a Hollywood remake.

Yet "Infernal Affairs" is 97 minutes long, "The Departed" is 151. Now it could be that Jack Nicholson just talks slower than the Chinese villains, but I'm putting my money on a padded plot and extra characters. There are a lot of big names in "The Departed" and they all get more than a few minutes of face time. (Why do we have Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg in this film, other than to swear at each other? If they are meant to make us see the commonalities between them as Boston police officers and the gang members they chase, they are a very dull tool used to make an obvious point. The best supporting actor nomination for Wahlberg is beyond me.) A little restraint would have made a good film into a great film like the flick it copied.

The other great "why" of the weekend was, why can't we Britons shed ourselves of our obsession with the Windsors?

I remember the first time I saw the Queen in person. She was riding in an open carriage down the High Street in Edinburgh, which is also known as the Royal Mile because it runs between the castle and Holyrood palace I was 10 or 11, and we stood for hours waiting for her to come so we could get a good look. The crowds cheered as she came by, but I remember being unable to open my mouth, or even wave. It was her, the Queen, the one we wanted God to save when we sang the national anthem. It was alarming and frightening.

In later years, I saw her again, opening a shopping center. I wasn't really interested in being there, but we had a guest from out of town and he wanted to go and see the spectacle. That time I was struck by just how tiny she is.

The British have a real love/hate relationship with the Royal family. We enjoy her as a symbol, mainly of past glories, and the idea that there is someone who technically is in charge of everything, perhaps even through divine intervention. On the other hand they can be privileged oafs, so disconnected from the reality of everyday people as to make them wildly anachronistic. It's a set-up which doesn't really make logical sense even to those people steeped in it, but it generally works and everyone muddles through.

Stephen Frears "The Queen" pokes this ugly situation again and again in various forms, His depiction of the debacle following the death of Lady Diana Spencer neatly touches on the good and rotten of the British constitutional monarchy system.

It's a snapshot in time, but Peter Morgan's script cleverly uses it to presage Tony Blair's present troubles. There are many deft touches such as the moment when Gordon Brown apparently calls in and Blair tells him to "hold on a minute."

I have to admit I was very moved a number of times during "The Queen." Helen Mirren is, as ever extraordinary, in the title role, as is Michael Sheen as Blair, and James Cromwell as Prince Phillip.

Looking back though I realize now my emotions were not so much the result of the horrors of Diana's death and the crisis it caused as the question, who is going to save us from ourselves?

"The Queen" is well worth seeing.

February 2007
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