Finally saw this today, and I liked it quite a bit. Mirren is all that and the bag of proverbial chips, and I appreciated the way she showed nuanced and controlled emotion where a less accomplished actress might simply go for one note stoicism punctuated by a single, actorly break to signal (without conveying) hidden depths.
I did have a reservation, about which I'm struggling.
On the one hand, I felt like the film committed one of my pet peeves, which was too much underlining, underscoring, or repeating that seemed more for the benefit of the easily bored (or less perceptive) than I like. I'm thinking of the first scene with the buck, replete with tears and dialogue (along the lines of "oh you beautiful thing") that was superfluous; the sort of emotionally intrusive musical soundtrack to create the illusion of emotion that one associates with mainstream, commercial film; not one but three expository speeches from Tony Blair--the "when you get it wrong, you get it really wrong" speech to the aide, followed by the speech to the wife, followed by parts of the postscript scene with the queen; not one but three or four cards on the flowers followed by a reference to the cards on the flowers in the postscript exchange.
On the other hand, a part of me said, "This whole film is about making concessions to the hoi poloi, about having to do violence to oneself and one's ideals so that one's meaning can be received more easily (and lazily) by a mass who isn't sufficiently attuned to or appreciative of one's artistry or performance. For that reason, I thought, "well, maybe those scenes are supposed to grate and in doing so to help you forge an emotional connection with the queen from the inside rather than just as an observer.
My wife's response to that comment was, "Well, that's a nifty spin, hopefully if that wasn't the intent, one of the publicists could come up with it in defending the film." I'm slightly less cynical, and have enough reader-response in my blood that if the film works for me on that frequency, it doesn't exactly matter if that was Frear's motivation for crafting it that way. Sometimes there are fortuitous accidents or results, especially in art that is created through a longer process. It may, for example, have been for non-thematic reasons, that we never see the kids directly, but the effect of their omission coupled with all the rhetoric about protecting them and doing what is best for them informed my response to her character that rippled through the other relationships and parts of the film.
Even within that line of thinking, I really disliked the postscript, but I think fading to black after the archival film of Diana looking at the camera after the funeral session would have been construed as too cynical and left me with a sour taste in my mouth.
I thought Alex Jennings gave a nice performance as Charles, too. What a pill. Hard to do that role without making him come across as a blithering idiot and, hence, totally unsympathetic.