Peter Morgan: Rewriting History

If Helen Mirren wins the Oscar for best actress and Forest Whitaker takes the prize for best actor, as is widely expected, they will both be saying thank you to the same man for the lines that got them the nod.

Peter Morgan, a 43-year-old Brit, is the hottest writer in Hollywood, nominated for the best screenplay Oscar for "The Queen," in which Mirren so powerfully captures the private struggles of Queen Elizabeth in the weeks following the death of Princes Diana.

Whitaker stars in Morgan's other hit, "The Last King Of Scotland," as murderous Ugandan ex-President Idi Amin.

Both movies have stoked controversy, as they rely on recent historical events and characters but feature invented scenes and dialogue.

Morgan's success has raised some serious questions: How far can you bend the truth? Will people believe all the words spoken onscreen were actually spoken -- and does that matter?

Morgan's two stories center on one of the most loved figures in history and of the most despised, and viewers have a serious stake in where the line between fact and fiction is drawn.

Diana, One Decade Later

Even 10 years on, the last images of Princess Diana remain vivid -- leaving the Ritz Hotel in Paris with Dodi Fayed for a car ride from which they would never return; the avalanche of flowers; the funeral watched on television, by, reportedly, billions of people.

It spurred an outpouring of emotion from everyone, it seemed, but the queen -- who for nearly six days after Diana's death remained silent.

How to tackle a subject with images and people already familiar around the world? "The Queen" employs archival footage of speeches and newscasts, and the actors re-create the actual speeches delivered by Tony Blair and Queen Elizabeth following Diana's death.

But Morgan says he focused on the scenes that are "unminuted" -- the closed-door conversations not recorded or transcribed.

"You're just never gonna know what happens in the private audiences between the queen and the prime minister," he says. "So I used that as a rule of thumb: I thought, 'I want to go to all the places that are unminuted --bedrooms, Land Rovers, audience meetings -- because I'm a dramatist.'"

As the movie relays, the press and the public fumed at the British royalty for their response to Diana's death -- particularly their delayed return to London -- and Morgan's script has generated criticism that his portrayal of the queen is too sympathetic.

In his defense, he says he focused on the human being behind the figurehead.

"I wrote her not as the queen, I wrote her as Elizabeth Windsor," Morgan says. "If you look closely, I've written a cold, withdrawn, awkward, quite stubborn, quite uncharitable, in places [woman] who has difficulty connecting with her own siblings, her own children."

But focusing on those faults may well be why audiences found the queen sympathetic, Morgan says, because "people not being good at things is endearing."

Where to Draw the Line

In the pursuit of overarching truth, Morgan argues that it's acceptable to make up details, and it would be foolish to pursue total accuracy.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...