Glimpsing a Queen's Soul: 'The Stag Scene'

There is a moment in the Oscar-nominated film The Queen that is known to some simply as "The Stag Scene." In the sequence, Helen Mirren, as Elizabeth II, sits on a hill in the lush Balmoral countryside.

The weight of recent events — the violent death of Princess Diana; pressure from Tony Blair and her own son to address the nation; an extremely hostile press — actually cause the stoic empress to break down in tears. Suddenly, a gorgeous, imposing imperial stag appears on a nearby hill.

And for a few seconds, Mirren's face changes completely, showing, by turns, wonder, joy, recognition and fear at the animal's beauty. It's a stark contrast to the seemingly stone-faced woman we see throughout the film.

The stag scene means different things to different people, including director Mirren, Stephen Frears and writer Peter Morgan. That ambiguity is part of its power.

The Queen is one of five contenders for the best picture award at the Oscars this Sunday. For her role in it, Mirren is up for best actress.

Helen Mirren Offers Intimate Portrait of 'The Queen'

Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth i i

hide captionHelen Mirren portrays Queen Elizabeth II in her new film, The Queen, which looks at the royal family in the aftermath of Princess Diana's death.

Laurie Sparham/Miramax Films
Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth

Helen Mirren portrays Queen Elizabeth II in her new film, The Queen, which looks at the royal family in the aftermath of Princess Diana's death.

Laurie Sparham/Miramax Films

In her new film, The Queen, Helen Mirren portrays Queen Elizabeth II in the days after Princess Diana's death in 1997.

The movie takes place as Tony Blair's Labour Party is coming to power, and is as much about the royal family's reaction to Princess Diana's death as it is about the monarchy's place in modern society.

Brought up "vehemently anti-monarchist and anti-British class system," Mirren says her parents, now deceased, would be horrified that she is playing Queen Elizabeth.

But at the same time, the 61-year-old British actress read numerous biographies and studied film of the queen — and found herself drawn more and more toward who Elizabeth Windsor was before she became the queen.

Mirren discusses bringing those qualities of Queen Elizabeth as a girl to the movie, the challenges of portraying a reigning monarch, and whether she thinks the queen will see The Queen.

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