I remember the death of Princess Diana and the subsequent hysteria vividly: I felt, at the time, like I was a stranger in my own land, with the emotions expressed on a national level, being entirely alien to me. Based on this film, it seems Queen Elizabeth II (Mirren) was similarly perplexed and bemused - however, she wasn't able to resort to the use of thinly-veiled sarcasm, but had to lead the country, along with new Prime Minister Tony Blair (Sheen). He has a much better handle on the PR aspects, with his finger on the public pulse: while not exactly a staunch monarchist, he finds himself with a growing respect for Her Majesty's stance, even as she tries to stand firm against a tidal-wave of enmity, from a public that perceives her reluctance to break with protocol, as actually indicating a callous indifference to the late princess.
In many ways, it's a study in contrast between the two families of Blair and Windsor [they were shot on different film stock to enhance this aspect]: the former come across as an everyday family, except that Daddy just happens to be Prime Minister; the latter still believing their position is through the grace of God, with flunkies to do everything for them. Yet, thanks mostly to Mirren's fabulous performance, fully deserving its Academy Award, both sides come off as remarkably human, even though they only meet briefly - most of their conversations are by telephone. Frears' socialist tendencies are well-known, yet his touch here is light enough and even-handed; if anything, this is closer to Dangerous Liaisons than My Beautiful Laundrette in his filmography. Even someone like myself, who hates Blair with a passion, came away with a new sense of respect for him, and also for our reigning monarch, who found herself having to cope with a situation that was both unprecedented and not of her own making. It's very difficult not to sympathize.