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Standouts in a strong cast are Ritter as a touchingly insecure and humane Major, and Richard McCabe as Wilson, whose gentle, teasing friendship with the queen brings out the best in both of them.

Haydn Gwynne also makes a strong impression as the forceful Thatcher, distinctly un-awed in the presence of her sovereign.

No minutes are kept of the meetings between prime ministers and monarchs, so Morgan’s script is based on imagination as well as research. It is a royal fantasy, and some viewers will fail to be swayed by Morgan’s depiction of a monarch who is _ in the words of Wilson _ “basically a leftie,” prepared to rebuke Thatcher over her stance on apartheid and caution a prime minister about the risks of entering a Middle East War. (The PM is Anthony Eden and the conflict the 1956 Suez Crisis, but the parallel to Blair and Iraq is resonant.)

The whole thing is often funny and ultimately affecting, but is it realistic? Who knows? For many, that will be the appeal of the play. Morgan imagines his way into two secret spaces: the inside of that palace meeting room and _ more tantalizingly _ the inside of the queen’s head, and her heart.

“The Audience” runs at the Gielgud Theatre in London until June 15. The June 13 performance will be broadcast live to movie theaters around Britain, and on varying dates to cinemas around the world.

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Online: http://www.theaudienceplay.com/

Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless