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, brought to tears. Then she sees the stag.

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

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The British film "The Queen" is up for six Oscars, including best picture. The movie centers around Queen Elizabeth's response to the death of Princess Diana. The straightforward, documentary-like story is interrupted by an almost mystical moment, and it's gotten a lot of attention.

As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, the scene stars a majestic stag.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Queen")

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. HELEN MIRREN (Actress): (As Queen Elizabeth II) Ah, you're beauty.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: If you haven't seen "The Queen", here's the deal: All of England is grieving Diana. The new Prime Minister, Tony Blair, goes on television and calls her the people's princess. A field of flowers blocks the gates at Buckingham Palace. But Queen Elizabeth is so out of touch, she doesn't think she should interrupt her vacation at Balmoral Castle in Scotland and go to London. In the middle of all this tumult comes the scene that brings everything to a halt.

(Soundbite of bird chirping)

BLAIR: The queen sits alone in a vast Balmoral countryside and starts to sob. Then she sees the stag. It's the same stag she knows her husband - out with the hunting party - is eager to kill. For a minute, the queen's stone face softens in awe of its beauty. She hears the hunters approach and shoos the stag away.

Ms. MIRREN: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Go on. Go on.

BLAIR: This scene has been mentioned in reviews, debated on Web sites, and dissected in newspaper columns. The Village Voice refers to the great symbolic stag. The Chicago Tribune mentions the metaphoric weight of the image.

Mr. STEPHEN FREARS (Director, "The Queen"): The problem of making a film about the queen is that she's famously a very reticent person.

BLAIR: For director Stephen Frears, the stag is just a stag. It's the emotional impact of the scene that's most important.

Mr. FREARS: You couldn't explain the problem through the normal channels. You had to do it in a different way. So yes, it's a moment when the queen shows her feelings, because famously, she doesn't show her feelings. So to put it in solitude seemed the right place to do it.

BLAIR: For Blake Snyder, the scene makes the movie. He's a screenwriter and author who also teaches film.

Mr. BLAKE SNYDER (Screenwriter and Author): Up until that point, we thought of her as cold and not understanding. Well, at the moment, her humanity is revealed. We like Queen Elizabeth.

BLAIR: But the real debate is over what the stag represents. Some insist it's Diana - beautiful and hunted by the paparazzi. Others think it's the queen herself, hounded by her people. Lyn Gattis, an English professor at Missouri State University, thinks the scene has mythological roots. It reminds her of a hunter Actaeon, who stumbles upon the goddess Artemis as she's bathing. She gets mad and turns him into a stag.

Professor LYN GATTIS (English, Missouri State University): The goddess Artemis was known by the Romans as Diana. It seemed to me that Elizabeth sort of blundered into this public relations situation, not realizing the affect of Diana's public persona on the English people. And her people turned on her.

BLAIR: Of course, the best authority on what the scene means is British screenwriter Peter Morgan, who wrote "The Queen". He has been amazed at all of the different interpretations.

Mr. PETER MORGAN (English Screenwriter, "The Queen"): I've so, you know, enjoyed other people's creativity in - as it were - decoding this, or finding a meaning for themselves.

BLAIR: Like Helen Mirren and Stephen Frears, Peter Morgan is nominated for an Oscar - his for original screenplay. He says the stag represents the entire monarchy.

Mr. MORGAN: Stags are always thought of as sort of commanding or majestic, particularly ones with impressive antlers.

BLAIR: Morgan says he specifically made it a 14-point imperial stag.

Mr. MORGAN: It sort of dawned on me as a metaphor, really, when I learned that, you know, a stag that has 14-points is a stag that should generally already have been culled. It is something that has somehow escaped capture. It resonated for me. You know, I feel pretty much the same way about our monarchy. I feel that, for some reason, they've managed to get away with it. They've survived, perhaps longer than one might have expected.

BLAIR: In Britain, some critics point to the stag scene as being slightly unrealistic. Catherine Shoard, a film critic for the Sunday Telegraph, says the queen's an enthusiastic hunter. She might have shot it herself.

Ms. CATHERINE SHOARD (Film Critic, Sunday Telegraph): Although she would have admired the beauty of the beast, I think she was also - and she wanted to see it sort of strung up in a (unintelligible) way.

(Soundbite of music)

BLAIR: Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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