"The Queen is a universal brand"
by Annika Pham
- Andy Harries has been working for the last 13 years as television executive for Granada TV. He had the idea of using Helen Mirren in The Queen when working with her on Prime Suspect 6.
One of his production partners on The Queen [+see also:
interview: Andy Harries
interview: Stephen Frears
film profile] was Christine Lagan with whom he had made the successful 2003 TV Drama The Deal for Channel 4 exploring Tony Blair and his Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown’s leadership pact. Several creative and artistic members of The Queen had already worked together on The Deal : actor Michael Sheen, director Stephen Frears and scriptwriter Peter Morgan.
Cineuropa: The Queen is a triumph on UK screens (over £4,3m). Did you thank Tony Blair for timing his political 'disintegration' with the UK release of the film...
Andy Harries: The unlucky thing in a way is that the film reminds people in the UK of what he promised when he arrived in power. In a way, his actions in the week that followed Princess Diana’s death (as shown in the film) reflect his career as Prime Minister for the last 10 years. Today, there are big disillusions among many people because of our involvement with the US in the war in Irak. People have felt betrayed by him. The film’s success is certainly partly because of the sense of capturing a moment.
How did the idea of the film come to your mind?
As a television executive working for Granada TV, I had brought back the TV drama Prime Suspect and had a long working relationship with Helen Mirren. When I was script reading it three years ago with her, other actors came in and they all almost bowed to her because she’s such a big name and people really like her. So I thought: "Gosh! She’s just like the Queen, people adore her, and...she also looks like the Queen!" So after The Deal, the idea to make a film about the Queen just seemed a very audacious and great idea. Prior to Diana, the making of the film would not have been accepted by the public, but over the last 10 years, the exposure of the Royal family has changed the whole way people look at them. That was the catalyst and it allowed us to make it.
How much time was spent researching the project?
There were approximately 50-60 people involved, various royal watchers, journalists, political lobbyists, some people very high up in the Labour Party who had become confident with us through our work on The Deal. So we had very good contacts but every meeting had to be supported by very detailed notes, and everything was passed to the lawyers. Nothing went into the script unless we had 3 sources basically backing it up.
How did you put the financing together with Pathé?
I always thought it was a movie right from the beginning because I thought it was a fantastic role and the Queen is a universal brand. I contacted Pathé who said they were keen to partner with Granada. Pathe took the world outside of America and pre-sold it quite quickly to a lot of territories so we were pretty sure from the beginning that about 75% of the budget would be coming from the world. At that time, Daniel Battsek, an old friend of mine became the head of Miramax. He thought the script was perfect. So the combination of pre-sales, plus US sale basically made the film in profit almost before we started shooting. The final budget was about 16m$.
So after Blair and Brown and Blair and The Queen, is it going to be Blair and Bush???
Actually, we’re in a very early stage of looking at a new story involving Blair, Bush and maybe Clinton! What we really want to explore is the Anglo-American alliance. People must be wondering what the hell is going on with our country, are we part of Europe or are we not...
What is Blair’s legacy in film in terms of what his government did for the UK film industry?
There is a whole new round of tax breaks that are encouraging. For the UK film industry it’s always better to have indigenous subjects. The mistake is to think about the market. We’re always on better ground when we make things about things we know and not double guess US culture. I hope UK filmmakers will continue to explore Britain on film.