How to Compare Ransom by Malouf and The Queen by Frears

This Resource is for students in Year 12 studying ‘Ransom’ in comparison to ‘The Queen’ in AOS1: Unit 4, Reading & Comparing Texts, Analytical Text Response, in the Victorian VCE 2023 Mainstream English Curriculum

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The Queen

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Comparing Ransom &
The Queen


Each of the texts, Stephen Frears’ film ‘The Queen’ and David Malouf’s novel ‘Ransom’ offers a re-interpretation of an aspect of history. ‘The Queen’ revisits Princess Diana’s death in 1997, and ‘Ransom’ retells a section of Homer’s ‘The Iliad’. While the texts are different in style, content, nature and form, they are linked by common issues, themes and ideas such as family, grief, leadership, authority, power and change. Both Director and Author aim to offer a new understanding of their respective historical stories by re-imagining the role and function of their chosen characters and social milieus.

Both texts explore the impact that the death of a famous person has on rulers, and on ordinary people. The texts show that rulers may be invested with authority in their public roles, but their personal lives and their bonds of family are resolutely human in nature. The nature of extreme grief, and the difficulty of dealing with it, is central to each narrative.  Most important of all, each text investigates the different ways in which rulers may be perceived by their people, and how they may hold or exercise power, and the ways in which old certainties invariably need to make way for changing values in new times.  Finally, each text emphasises that rulers are often under as much control as the ruled.

Why Compare Ransom and The Queen?

Public Figures in Contemporary Society

Public figures, especially leaders such as politicians and royalty are often victims of ridicule and harsh criticism in our contemporary society. Prime Ministers, Presidents, and members of Royalty, are under constant public scrutiny in many societies. There are expectations of leaders in the way they manage their working and personal lives, and they have to fulfil the impossible expectation of pleasing everybody. Whilst leaders and royalty do receive money for their efforts, this only serves to place more pressure on those expectations.

Important Issues are Raised in Both Texts

In comparing David Malouf’s novel ‘Ransom’, set in Ancient Greece, and Stephen Frear’s film ‘The Queen’, set in the 1990s, many important issues are raised. What do we expect from public figures? How has the changing world impacted on our expectations of leaders and royalty, in particular? Furthermore, both texts involve the ‘retelling’ of history and the past, which requires interpretation and carries with it, ethical implications.

Both Texts Deal with Death and Grief

Both texts deal with death and grief on a personal and global scale and challenge us to consider what are the acceptable protocols and when is it time to challenge these protocols and traditions. In the case of ‘The Queen’, it is clear that the perspective offered is that the British Royal family were judged harshly as not responding appropriately and ‘humanely’ to the death of Princess Diana, who was one of the most admired, followed and loved ‘public figures’ of all time. Her death in 1997 came out of the blue and plunged millions into grief and shock.

Personal Grief in a Public Dimension

In Malouf’s reimagining of a section of ‘The Iliad’, Priam’s personal grief over the death of his son forces him to take action that went against the usual protocol or behaviour of a King at that time. ‘The Queen’ and ‘Ransom’ explore the nature of personal grief and its public dimension, which affects others. Whilst the film explores the harsh criticism that the Royal Family received in trying to maintain the traditional rules of the monarchy, Malouf’s novel reveals the criticism King Priam received in taking risks and stepping out of the boundaries of his role.

The two texts suggest that grief is real and powerful, and that death must be honoured and grieved appropriately, or else there will be bitter consequences. This is a relatively new and modern understanding, with the increasing availability of grief counselling, grief literature and public memorials.

Change and Risk Taking is Challenging

In the film ‘The Queen’ and the novel ‘Ransom’, change and risk taking are seen as challenging and controversial, but also essential to move forward and not stagnate. While Malouf has reimagined how Priam would be challenged to change and take the opportunity to stop ‘thinking in the old way’ and ‘try something new’, the Queen in 1997 did struggle to keep up with changes in society. She is disturbed to realise that ‘the way we do things in this country’ is changing and the Queen is obliged to embrace change in order to manage the events surrounding Princess Diana’s death.

The Relevance of the Monarchy in Modern Britain

For a long time, there have been many people questioning the relevance and validity of the monarchy in a country such as Britain, where the monarchy has been a figurehead for a long time. This suggests ongoing debate about what the Royal family represents and how they go about doing these things. At the same time there are many devoted fans and believers in the monarchy, who want things to continue as they are. What is the compromise?

We can also look at how things were in 1997 and how they are now, with the Queen’s death in 2022 and a new monarch Charles III on the British throne. In comparison to the film, the Royal Family demonstrated public grief at the death of Queen Elizabeth II. May be they learnt their lesson from the inaction of 1997 what the public really wanted to see from their royals was a showing of actual grief instead of sticking to protocol and tradition.

Similarities in Ideas in the Texts but the Approach is Different

While there are similarities in their ideas, the film and the novel, the approach each text takes to exploring these is different. At the heart of the film is an appraisal of the way that Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Queen coped with the social and political ramifications of Princess Diana’s sudden death. The central focus of the novel is the impact of grief on leaders, soldiers and ordinary people, precipitated by the contentious deaths of each of Patroclus and Prince Hector. In ‘Ransom’, readers are encouraged to empathise with, and understand, those whose emotions are intense and whose lives are altered as a result. The film, in contrast, offers a critique of the Royal family’s initial lack of public response to the Princess’ death, as they concentrate instead on adhering to the protocols and traditions of the institution of the monarchy. The film shows the Queen ignoring advice from her new Prime Minister and her son, and underestimating both the power of her ex-daughter-in-law (and of the media that had created her image) and the needs of the grieving British people.

Malouf’s Characters Show Pain and Emotion

Malouf’s characters are in pain, and their emotion is the engine of their deeds; any behaviour they engage in to enact and define that pain is acceptable. Their grief and anger seem to excuse any behaviour. Another key idea explored in the novel is the question of who controls the narrative and how it is controlled. Consider carefully the impact of Malouf’s writing style and the way in which he conveys the characters’ desire to control not only what is happening around them, but the future stories that will be told about them and the decisions they make. In highlighting the ephemeral [short-lived] nature of control, Malouf prompts readers to consider that it is hard to be in charge and to make proper decisions when in the midst of roaring emotions. The novel also considers the fragility of the link between identity and performance.

‘The Queen’ Asserts Tradition and Stability Over Emotions

Frears presents characters in the film that assert tradition and stability over emotions. No matter the situation, for royalty, the old ways must remain. The public reaction to Princess Diana’s death, and the new Prime Minister Blair’s approach to fulfilling his own leadership role are seen as threats to the power of the monarchy. Yet, Frears reveals how the swing and push of events force the older royals to change, and shift their position, at least on the outside. Personal emotion for the royal family is demonstrated to be perpetually guarded unless within the privacy of spaces far away from public scrutiny. Like Malouf, Frears explores a number of ways of projecting power, and offers a view of the precarious nature of power, whether one is in an inherited or democratically-elected position of leadership, or in the public gaze of the media as Diana is.  Consider how viewers are positioned by Frears to feel sympathy and empathy (or not) for the central characters and reflect on the significance of his directorial decisions.

Each Text is Examining Individuals’ Responses to Recognisably Human Events

Regardless of the privilege, tradition and tropes [figures] of power which shape the identity and public role of the protagonists of both texts, each individual leader’s innate humanity is illuminated in the varying ways that they respond to grief.  Both the novel and the film concur about the idea of the importance of the need to be able to overcome individual, personal hurt, for the sake of the greater good.

All Resources created by Online Tutoring using Zoom for Mainstream English Students in the Victorian Curriculum

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