IN WHICH THE QUEEN REGENERATES AS KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS
A playwright’s work is never done. Not if politics are involved: Peter Morgan relates that once it became clear that David Cameron was back, he slept two hours and got up to rewrite the PM’s scene with HM Queen for that night. Seems that they were so surprised that Samantha had been “packing vans” already. Excellent.
I went on election night itself, to see how after a couple of years it felt to reprise Morgan’s imagining of the weekly audiences: twelve Prime Ministers over sixty years. I had loved it in its Helen Mirren incarnation: despite the humour and the respect there is little caricature or satire, nor too sentimental a royalism. I wrote “funny, truthful, good-hearted, spiky, full of surprises”.
That still holds. Cast changes are effective: David Calder as Churchill gives just the right elderly bombast in his exchanges with the young Elizabeth, and Sylvestra Le Touzel is a more convincing Thatcher, mastering the eye-flash and tripping gait. Nicholas Woodeson as Wilson returns, in Morgan’s best scenes as he and the Queen find joshing common ground . Stephen Daldry’s direction is fluid, filmic, making the most of the moments when Elizabeth talks briefly with her rebellious child self, warning her of a world of heavy reverence where “No one will ever call you by your name. Or look you in the eye”.
There are tweaks to the play: Tony Blair now makes a brief appearance, which helps to underline Morgan’s tart verbal paralleling of Eden’s Suez invasion and Blair’s Iraq venture (that “is it legal?” echoing down the decades). I am less enamoured of the zhoozhing-up of ceremonial with the Coronation moment, and two huge Life Guards stamping up and down during the interval, but the Americans nearby adored it, which I suspect is the reason. For me it clashed with the intimacy of the play’s tone.
And the new Queen? For Mirren has regenerated, Dr-Who style, as Kristin Scott Thomas. And yes, it feels different. Mirren has a warmer wit; her evocation of the Queen’s wry awareness of her powerless pomp, dutiful personality and deep religious faith convinced entirely. Scott Thomas is harder-edged, chillier. Morgan seems to have removed from the script the moment I found most touching in the Mirren version, when she is asked about the Duke’s health and suddenly almost chokes, speaking about the heart device“keeping him alive”. That’s gone; but it wouldn’t have worked as well with Scott Thomas. She can do huge crazy emotions (as in Electra) but not that delicate modest suggestion of suppressed depths. She is, on the other hand, perfect at delivering a sudden waspish “Are you wearing make-up?” to a Cameron fresh from the TV studio. And if you haven’t seen it before, do go. The play’s the thing.
Box Office 0844 482 9671 to 25 July theaudienceplay.com