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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 September 2006, 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK
Mirren discusses delicate royal role
By Emma Jones
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, in Venice

At the premiere of Dame Helen Mirren's new film The Queen at the Venice Film Festival this weekend, the crowds were cheering the actress with the chant: "The Queen! The Queen!"

Dame Helen Mirren in The Queen
Dame Helen Mirren describes the Queen as "a conundrum"
There is a certain regality about 61-year-old Mirren, which she has put to good use in her Emmy-winning performance as Elizabeth I and now in Stephen Frears's The Queen.

Critics here in Venice have praised her performance as the British monarch tussling with Tony Blair over the appropriate royal response to the death of Princess Diana in August 1997.

During the screening, there was plenty of laughter from the international audience at the often comic portrayal of a family out of touch with British public opinion.

But Mirren told BBC News the film did not intend to pummel the monarchy.

"It's dangerous material," she admits. "You can tip it either way and be venal, cruel and unnecessary, or it can go the other way and you can be grovelling. You have to walk a tightrope."

Dame Helen Mirren with director Stephen Frears
Mirren launched the film at Venice with director Stephen Frears
The actress and director received a 15-minute standing ovation at the end of the film and critics are predicting Mirren's own coronation as best actress during the awards season for revealing the humanity beneath the dignity of the monarch's office.

"She's a conundrum," Mirren says. "She's like the sofa or the armchair that you have had for ever and you know every bit of it - yet you know nothing of her at all.

"It's an extraordinary achievement and I'm trying to get in there and find the person within."

Though the film is based on interviews and articles from those close to the main players, Mirren warns against audiences believing her interpretation of the Queen's character.

"It's my version," she says. "I say it's a portrait. Every one that's made of the Queen is different and this is just my picture."

Dame Helen Mirren in The Queen
The real Queen made Mirren a dame in 2003
After the princess's death, the royal family eventually had to bow to media and popular pressure and make a public display of mourning.

Watching the film, as the tabloid headlines against the Queen grow worse and worse, the extent of the crisis the monarchy was facing is now clear.

But the actress does not believe the Queen herself was ever at risk.

"These hurricanes blow over the monarchy, yet when the dust settles there's still this little figure standing there, hat on, always there."

It is an audacious move to portray the most powerful figures in the country while they are still in office - especially as the Queen made Mirren a dame for services to the British Empire.

Proof possibly that British popular culture, along with the monarchy, really did shift that week in 1997.

Watch a clip from The Queen

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