A friend called up the other day and said: “There’s a ‘Save the Cat!’ moment in The Queen, have you seen it?”
I did have a screener of the film, however, kindly sent to WGA members as part of the studio’s effort to promote its filmmakers for award consideration.
Love those screeners!
So along with some friends we had a Sunday Evening Cinecale — and what a great movie! Helen Mirren as the titular Queen E, and even better, Michael Sheen as the newly elected PM, Tony Blair, made for wonderful political combatants. The conflict: the controversy over the death of Princess Diana (an event that marked the first time I’d ever learned of a breaking news story from the Internet). The movie details the outpouring of love for the “People’s Princess” that took the Royal family and the government by surprise.
The story is the slow coming to grips with this event by Mirren. The very icy Queen of England, along with consort Phillip (James Cromwell) and the rest of the Royals, are portrayed as chilly in their initial response, denying Diana the courtesies that would be extended to a true Royal and not an ex one. Holding the line most of all is Mirren, who can’t quite get why the people hate her and love Diana. The underestimating of the situation leads to a national crisis, and a threat to the institution.
It isn’t until Mirren drives out into her country estate late in the film and gets her car stuck that the “Cat!” moment occurs. While waiting for someone to come get her, the Queen sees a magnificient fourteen-point stag, a beautiful animal who pauses to regard her, and — when the sound of hunters approaching is heard — runs off as Mirren tells it to shoo, in the hope it will escape. At that moment, we warm to the cold Queen, and she too begins to turn in her appreciation of Diana’s death.
In a movie where the main character arc is about going from someone we don’t like to one we do, or at least understand, the Cat! moment comes late — but right on time for the sake of our story.
What does the deer represent? I have my own theories. But the screenwriting “trick” it exemplifies proves how even a small moment like this can turn our appreciation of a character. As screenwriters, we are “emotion coordinators” — ha! I kinda like that — and the effect when done well, as it is in this case, is sublime.
The Queen is also an example of the “Institutionalized” story, in which a “Naif” (Blair) faces down the “Company Man” (The Queen et al). The showdown is reminiscent of other great conflicts of the “I” kind, including such Mentor-Mentee tales as that between Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington in Training Day and even the face-off of R.P. McMurphy and Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
What do you think the lone stag — that is eventually hunted and killed — represents? I’d love to hear your thoughts! And when you see The Queen, think of that “Save the Cat!” moment — and how it really does work!
p.s. Have a great writing week! Another very successful workshop this weekend; we’ve got a lot of writers hot on the trail of success. That knock on the door you hear is us, and we are coming in!