The instinct of credibility
by Fabien Lemercier
10/10/2006 - Using irony with consummate artistry, Stephen Frears takes advantage of a visit to Paris to play verbal ping-pong with the French press, which ran to him en masse, wanting steal the trade secrets behind The Queen. What follows are selected passages from an exchange (to be read between the lines) with a filmmaker who subtly avoids all attempts to pin down his protean talent.
What attracted you to this “monarchical” subject?
Stephen Frears: It’s simply an interesting story, and the world in which I live. If you were English, the royal family and these institutions would be an integral part of your lives. Every time you send a letter the Queen is on it, it’s almost impossible to escape from it. And if the institution is ridiculous, the Queen is an admirable and extremely popular woman. There’s something unique about her, there’s a special relationship between the English and their sovereign.
In certain aspects, The Queen [trailer, film focus] approaches a Shakespearian theme. It is a symbolic story, because it says a lot about my country, which is divided between tradition and modernity. The film speaks of a conflict that brings the two worlds face to face, as well as a tradition that is both the country’s strength and weakness. Screenwriter Peter Morgan and I had already made The Deal in 2003, which focused on Tony Blair. The Queen is its sequel, with the difference this time being that the Queen is the main character.
Your film is characterised by the characters’ humanity and the absence of caricature. Were you particularly attentive to this?
Yes, that is what Peter Morgan and I wanted from the start. Then, as we progressed with the work, we simply tried to pose the question of credibility. But we had no obligations towards the royal family, except to behave in a responsible and just manner because they are human beings, each with their own sensibility.
What is fiction and what is reality in The Queen?
The film is based on an enormous amount of research, but the scenes between the characters are all made up. It is an instinct of sorts that lets you judge what is and is not credible.
Why did you use archive material for events that you could have recreated?
We needed this element in order to lend some authenticity, and a dramatisation would have been less powerful. We had only the Palace and the Prime Minister as the basis of the fictitious dialogue. And this is why we showed images of Diana, real images, otherwise the film would have been nothing more than a story on some old people in a palace in Scotland.
Along with Sofia Coppola’s Marie-Antoinette, your Queen seems to mark the birth of a movement to recuperate kings and queens on the big screen.
In the past, I’ve made films on the working class, but I depend on the projects I’m brought. If the story is a good one, the social setting is not important, whether it’s the one of My Beautiful Laundrette or The Queen. I generally find that life is so horrible that only fiction allows us to lift ourselves above it.
Did you experience any pressure in terms of the story or have any difficulties in financing the film?
Absolutely not. No films have ever been made on the Queen and the republicans of Pathé financed this violent attack against the monarchy. I can say that I was truly lucky to have found such an interesting subject.