Elizabeth: The Unseen Queen Review – A sweet, moving documentary with a sad farewell mood

One of the Queen’s mottos is ‘I have to be seen to be believed’, but naturally at 96 and with ‘episodic mobility issues’ her audience sees less and less of her. So someone very smart obviously thought it would be a good idea to dig up the old home videos and release this mostly unseen footage to make up for the rarity of their public appearances. For us, it’s a little treat – a platinum anniversary gift. For the queen, as she hints in her story, it is a chance to show those who only knew her as a nice old lady that she too was once young. It’s quite a treasure trove.

The color films of the 1940s were made by quite a high-born crew – their father, King George VI; the queen mother; her uncle, King Edward VIII; her husband, Prince Philip; and the Queen herself. They were keen cameramen, those Windsors, and they took their little Super 8 machines with them everywhere. The film collection is apparently huge and this selection only takes us as far as the coronation in 1953, also conveniently avoiding the entry of the likes of Andrew, Diana, Fergie and the Duchess of Sussex. Instead we get George V, the Duke of Kent, and Charles and Anne as playful toddlers.

Most of the material is, frankly, as mundane as any home theater, and the commentary consists largely of sermons from old Christmas shows and speeches. But it’s fascinating to peek into the private lives of this family: a little Princess Elizabeth and her sister Margaret performing little dances in the garden; a young and handsome Prince Philip driving a primitive scooter; Her (future) Majesty cuddles with the corgis; and her easygoing, pipe-smoking father, the King of England and Emperor of India, who pulls faces and carts his little daughters through the garden (no trace of his legendary bad temper here).

There’s no original soundtrack, but young Elizabeth comes across as someone who likes to smile a lot, tease a little, and take a philosophical view of the world and make the best of things.

“Service requires sacrifice,” the Queen insists, and rightly so, but looking at the beautiful sunset she photographed from the royal train on the family’s official trip to South Africa in 1947, one can’t help but think, that being royal has advantages, too. We see all their horses and dogs and, well, sprawling country estates, fine townhouses and grand palaces, and there’s an inevitable air of opulence and privilege that feels a little jarring when you think about the Great Depression of their subjects outside of the lovely walled gardens and far from the cozy ‘cottages’ of Windsor and the tranquility of Balmoral.

Edward VIII, “the uncrowned king,” makes an appearance, but there’s no trace of the embarrassing footage that leaked a few years ago of the nine-year-old queen innocently performing the Nazi salute at her uncle’s urging. Instead, we see small fragments from the letters “your very loving granddaughter Lilibet” to “Granny” – Queen Mary – about Hitler as a “terrible man” whom “we will not give in to”. She is, after all, a living symbol of the greatest generation now fading.

It’s all pretty sweet and pretty moving for her loyal subjects. Unfortunately, the program has something farewell. In one of the archive newsreels about her father, a choppy voice from the 1950s proclaims “God save the King.” It’s poignant. I’m afraid we’re not quite ready to hear that again seriously.

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/reviews/elizabeth-the-unseen-queen-review-b2089036.html Elizabeth: The Unseen Queen Review – A sweet, moving documentary with a sad farewell mood


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