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Glimpsing a Queen's Soul: 'The Stag Scene'

There is a moment in the Oscar-nominated film The Queen that is known to some simply as "The Stag Scene." In the sequence, Helen Mirren, as Elizabeth II, sits on a hill in the lush Balmoral countryside.

The weight of recent events — the violent death of Princess Diana; pressure from Tony Blair and her own son to address the nation; an extremely hostile press — actually cause the stoic empress to break down in tears. Suddenly, a gorgeous, imposing imperial stag appears on a nearby hill.

And for a few seconds, Mirren's face changes completely, showing, by turns, wonder, joy, recognition and fear at the animal's beauty. It's a stark contrast to the seemingly stone-faced woman we see throughout the film.

The stag scene means different things to different people, including director Mirren, Stephen Frears and writer Peter Morgan. That ambiguity is part of its power.

The Queen is one of five contenders for the best picture award at the Oscars this Sunday. For her role in it, Mirren is up for best actress.

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Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.