I watched two movies at the cinema today. Unexpectedly, both shared similar themes and ways of delivering their stories. The first was The Audience, a recording of a play with Helen Mirren, done as part of NTLive. If you’re not familiar with NTLive, it’s a program whereby plays in the UK (I was going to write London but Macbeth with Kenneth Brannagh is being performed in Manchester) are filmed then screened around the world for many more people to enjoy. I’ve previously seen, as part of NTLive, Helen Mirren perform in Phaedre and then last year saw Alan Bennett’s People. Both excellent.
Today it was The Audience where Helen Mirren reprises her role as Queen Elizabeth II. The play focuses on imaginings of the discussions the Queen had (and has) with her Prime Ministers. There have been 12 in all. I’d heard about the play months ago and was so pleased it was going to be screened. A friend in London actually saw the play live and said it was wonderful.
Originally, I’d wanted to see it on Wednesday night with Glen but I’d booked tickets too late and all the evening screenings nearby (there are only about six altogether) were fully booked. So I went today at 12:15 instead. I thought it was at the cinema down the road so took my time getting there, grabbing some lunch on the way, then looking in a bookshop. It wasn’t until 12:10 when I tried to collect my tickets that I realised not only was I at the wrong cinema but it also wasn’t even playing at the one I was standing in.
Luckily, it wasn’t too far. I sprinted down Bloor Street, down into the subway and onto a waiting train. The doors closed behind me. It was now about 12:13. Usually the previews last about twenty minutes so I thought I was safe. I didn’t even mind the people standing on the left on the escalators. I had time.
Turns out I didn’t. I missed the first ten minutes or so, and I think because of that I missed one and a half Prime Ministers, which was a shame as one of them was Blair and he kept being referenced throughout the rest of the play. I was also forced to sit at the very front of the cinema as it was chockfull of seniors.
Nevertheless, it was a great performance. The story does a lot for the Queen’s image and certainly warms one to her personally, and a little to the institution. The theatricality of it was excellent too. There was one particular moment when she goes from being an older queen to a young queen meeting Churchill. The costume change takes place on stage and is done in seconds and in such a way that the audience gasps. Amazing.
Put that in stark contract to Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Also a story about a person withstanding the test of time and being of service to a nation and a line of leaders. The story is of a black man called Cecil Gaines who served as a butler in the White House from the 50s to the 80s. While he was serving in the house of American power, his son was involved in the civil rights movement. Conflict between the two of them with conflict raging in the US.
So juxtapose the story of a privileged ruler and that of a repressed people and their fight for freedom…it’s quite something.
From pure entertainment value though, both were excellent performances, moving, thought-provoking yet enjoyable.