REVIEW: Mrs. Queen Takes the Train

By William Kuhn

For her 60th year on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II ventured into regally unfamiliar territory when she had fun with James Bond at the opening of the London Olympics. In Kuhn’s fictional light, fluffy royal romp, the monarch does something equally unimaginable: she goes walkabout from her duties. This queen is suffering from depression; each year’s routine is grindingly the same as the one before. “It does give me a headache,” she moans to her lady in waiting, “when people cheer at me, you know? They mean well, but it hurts.” Adding to her doldrums are the criticisms left over from the Diana years. So Elizabeth II decides to go where she was happiest—the Royal Yacht Britannia, now a tourist attraction near Edinburgh. Through a series of happenstances involving cheddar, a horse and a hoodie stencilled with a skull on the back, she escapes from the gilded fishbowl of Buckingham Palace and hops on a train headed north. Along the way she’s mistaken for Helen Mirren (who played her in The Queen) and ends up discussing novelist Alan Bennett (who wrote the acidic Elizabeth II novella, The Uncommon Reader): “Charming man. Kept smiling at me all the time. Rather tongue tied.”

Unlike Bennett’s clever, intellectual creation, this is a frivolously delightful fairy tale. So, naturally, chasing after her is a loyal “band of brothers,” a group of staff and helpful outsiders who perfectly represent the social and ethnic stratifications of Britain. As adventures pile up, she becomes a happier, more approachable person, soon back on the job. And in keeping with the happy-ending format, that means going to see the only Shakespearean drama that would suit this novel of a sovereign mingling with common folk—Henry V.

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