The queen goes in search of her family in the woods. She drives through a river in her Land Rover, but get stuck. She calls a man in town and tells him what's happened, sure of what's wrong with the car, since she was a mechanic during the war. He offers to come help her and she sits by the river listening to the sound of the water. Suddenly, she begins to cry. As she cries, the stag that her husband has been hunting appears. They look at one another, and the queen says to herself, "Oh, you're a beauty." When she hears a gunshot in the distance, she shoos the stag away, and smiles when it escapes.
Cherie tells Tony that a news crew is waiting outside their house for Tony to make a statement. Tony tells her he is making a statement to the press to help smooth over the royals' problems. "Don't you think she deserves it sitting up there on their 40,000 acres?" Cherie asks, but Tony says it is in their best interest to help the royals. "Besides, I think there's something ugly about the way everyone's started to bully her," he says.
Tony passes on a message to the public from the queen, as the queen watches from her bedroom. Philip tells her that Harry and William are upset because they saw the papers, which upsets Elizabeth. "Let them take it out on the stag," Philip says. The queen turns off the television and gets in bed, as Philip suggests that the guest list for the funeral is made up of "soap stars and homosexuals." Philip tells her that Elton John is going to perform, as she gets in bed and turns off the light.
Tony watches television on the day of the funeral. The press continues to lambast the queen for not making a statement. Tony's advisors tell him that he is more popular than ever, as Tony wonders whether the press wrote about his statement on behalf of the royal family. The solitary headline that mentions it says, "Blair defends stoical royals."
Tony calls the queen, and she talks to him from the kitchen of Balmoral. When Tony tells her the situation is "quite critical," and that 70% of people believe her actions have damaged the monarchy, she listens attentively. After the phone call, Elizabeth goes to visit her mother and complains about the advice Tony gave her. The advice was to fly the flag at half-mast, go to London, visit Diana's coffin, and make a public statement, but the queen remains resistant.
"When you no longer understand your people, Mummy, maybe it is time to hand it over to the next generation," the queen says to the Queen Mother, who scoffs at this. The Queen Mother advises her to reassert her authority. The queen decides to cede to the prime minister's advice, much to the chagrin of Philip. Charles tells his mother that he thinks she is making the right decision, but she looks pained after making the call.
Tony looks pleased as he watches the queen take a stroll past the condolence flowers outside Balmoral. Privately, she visits the body of the stag that was killed and wipes away tears. "Let's hope he didn't suffer too much," she says, before telling the man who runs the lodge to congratulate the killer of the stag.
After getting her car stuck in the river, the queen has a rare emotional moment, weeping by the water's edge. She is completely alone in nature, not propped up by any of the artifices of royal life, and the weight of her position and the recent tragedy come flooding to the surface. It is a striking moment of emotion from a character who we have rarely seen to give any indication of her internal feelings. The contrast between the starchy formalities of the rest of the film and this moment is evident, and makes the moment particularly cathartic.
While the film is a fictionalization of real events, much of the rest of the film prior to the weeping by the river has a plausible or straightforward quality. While the screenplay is hardly a transcription of the conversations that occurred among royals and non-royals in the wake of Diana's death, they exist within a kind of feasible narrative world. The moment in which the queen cries on the riverside stands out, because it feels like the most fanciful fictionalization of the events. There is no way to know whether the queen actually had an emotional moment in the days following Diana's death, so this moment in the film stands out as particularly fictional and imagined, which makes it all the more affecting. It humanizes the queen and aligns the viewer with her specific plight.
Making this moment of solitude and emotion all the more poignant is the fact that the queen is visited by the stag that everyone has been talking about during their time in Scotland. The stag wanders towards her as she wipes her eyes and they make eye contact, a surreal moment almost out of a fairy tale. The stag surely symbolizes something, but its symbolic power remains ambiguous. Is the stag Diana? Is it the queen herself? She shares a tender, almost understanding moment with the animal, the object of her husband's hunt, and seems to reflect on her position in the world.
The queen, who has remained immovable up until now, begins to experience doubts about her response to the crisis. When Tony calls her to let her know that she is becoming unpopular and that she absolutely must bend to the will of the people, she is flabbergasted, her face falling in disbelief. When she discusses the matter with the Queen Mother, she wonders if it would perhaps not be better if she were to just withdraw and leave governance to the younger generation. She is torn between her desire to honor her commitment to being a monarch and her desire to give her people what they want.
Even after she sees the stag in the wild, the queen feels connected to its plight. After she has decided to go with Tony's advice and express public remorse about Diana, she goes to visit the body of the stag after it has been killed. Privately, as she looks at the stag, she wipes away a tear, but then she promptly tells the man who runs the lodge to congratulate the man who killed the deer. Here, as in the case of Diana's death, the queen must make distinctions between her private and public responses to death, weakness, and victimhood.