Contemporary ‘British’ cinema and the nation’s monarchs
The quarter century since Kenneth Branagh's Henry V(1989) has seen numerous representations of English and Scottish monarchs, both legendary and historical, in 'British' films. Some of these films function as biopics, some as dramas in which the monarch is the protagonist and some as costume dramas or historical films in which monarchs appear only briefly. At one level these films are more or less conventional products, designed to appeal to particular global markets, and often UK-US co productions. Here the relevant questions are the circumstances of production and circulation, and the extent to which the films rework established genre conventions. At another level, the representation of monarchy in these films plays a key role in the maintenance and renewal of the national institution. In this context, this chapter will examine how these films negotiate the shift from the absolutist power of the pre-modem and early modem monarchy to the 'postpolitical' constitutional monarchy of the contemporary period. As they move toward the present day, the monarch becomes both an ordinary person, the private individual in the family and household, and an extraordinary figure, surrounded by all the ceremony and pomp of royal1itual and costume drama, a spectacular image for a global brand.
Queen Victoria has been depicted on the screen on over a hundred occasions, by some of our leading actors. Her film depictions, while ostensibly about history, may also help to 'reorganise the present', in Pierre Sorlin's description. This chapter will assess the changing - and not so changing - ways in which Victoria has been represented on the screen. Victoria the Great (1937) and (the second version of) Sixty Glorious Years (1938) show the Queen as embodying the imperial consensus of the time. Yet those made after the outbreak of the People's War - such as The Prime Minister (1941) and The Mudlark (1950)- present the monarch as more concerned with her people's economic welfare, as the social democratic consensus emerges. Recent examples have pushed politics into the background and focused on Victoria's emotional life - as in Mrs. Brown (1997) and The Young Victoria (2009). Such works present the Queen as a victim of birth, tradition, politicians and popular expectations - and explore the personal tensions inherent in being the national figurehead. Yet, while increasingly portraying the personal dilemmas of a monarch caught within an unforgivinginstitution, these films also stress the central importance of the monarchy to the nation. Such dramatic licence might annoy historians, but it suggests a vigorous faith in a monarchy that allegedly transcends petty party politics and enjoys direct communion with the people. As such, film representations of Victoria bolster the continuing popularity of an inherently undemocratic institution.
Sarah Bernhardt, Queen Elizabeth and the development of motion pictures
Sarah Bernhardt's Queen Elizabeth (Henri Desfontaines and Louis Mercanton, 1911) was an international popular success, released in the US as a headline attraction for the Famous Players company founded by Charles Frohman and Adolph Zukor in order to distribute the film. It drew other theatrical stars to the cinema and helped to inaugurate the longer playing narrative film, furthering a new category of spectacle in cinema itself. Yet scholars and historians have long denounced Queen Elizabeth as anachronistic and stagey, material proof of its star's inability to engage with film. Examining specific scenes and shots, this chapter will show that the film's appropriation of a rich history of the stage, painting and literature challenges us to think of early cinema in new and provocative ways. The aim is not to uncover a lost masterpiece, but to demonstrate that only today, at a point at which we can discuss intermediality, transnational art forms and feminism as related undertakings, is it possible to explore Bernhardt's 'moving' Tudor Queen.
This chapter will consider Tom Hooper's award-winning film, The King's Speech, in terms of its allegorical references to imperial relations in the inter-war period. It concentrates on the pairing of George VI (Colin Firth) and his Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) as lord and vassal, both caught in bonds of loyalty and trust but also defined by the imperial centre's need for the fealty of the periphery. This evokes the traditional ties that were drawn upon in the First World War and would be again in the Second, touching upon the work of Ernst Kantorowicz in his history of pro patria mori. King George VI could be seen as Britain's last emperor and the use of media power to enhance the distribution not of 'the body of the King' but ofhis voice provides some of the incongruous magic the film elicits between ancient and modem concepts of monarchy and citizenship. The historically-based character Lionel Logue is represented as an ambiguous imperial subject - he is both loyalist and a presumptive colonial. The play between Logue and the King ski1is around a 'majesty' which is both unfonned (the stuttering) and challenged, figured most explicitly by the scene set around King Edward's Chair. Deftly deploying both pathos and comedy, the narrative serves to re-establish this majesty through the life-giving support of unorthodox colonial ingenuity.
In the midst of Princess Margaret's 1950s romance with RAF Captain Peter Townsend, Malcolm Muggeridge wamed that the new celebrity coverage of the royal family would end in tears. But in 2006, Stephen Frears' The Queen proved that tears could enhance the popularity of the British monarchy, creating what film critic David Thomson called 'the most sophisticated public relations boost HRH had had in 20 years'. In this depiction of the fateful week after the death of Diana in 1997, docudrama - the by melodrama, with its pathos, its appeal for moral recognition and its highly expressive mise-en-scene. The fanner (represented by actual news footage) is the genre of the film's 'queen of hearts', Diana. The latter (represented by the dramatic fiction written by Morgan) is that of its ' queen of a nation', Elizabeth II. In its opposition oftwo ambitious queens, one romantic, one worldly, the film echoes Friedrich Schiller's 1800 proto-melodrama, Mary Stuart. More than two centuries later, the older genre triumphs, rendering the Queen's fictional world more vivid and affecting than the actual images ofthe real-life Diana. Much of this triumph can be attributed to Helen Mirren, who brings the prestige of her star persona to a monarch in danger ofbeing overshadowed by the celebrity of her rival. In an unusually forthright discussion of royalty and celebrity, The Queendraws the two regimes of power together in a single figure, who finishes the film with a declamation on 'glamour and tears'.
Amateur film, civic culture and the rehearsal of monarchy
Dating from as early as 1906, a large number of amateur films commemorate royal visits to Scotland's town halls and schools. They capture- in lise Hayden's terms - the 'minor events' of British royalty where the monarchs' physical presence and symbolic embodiment are balanced on a 'knife's edge' as both their 'ordinariness' and uniqueness must be maintained simultaneously. This tension explains why the choreographing of these events is often (wearily) similar and the films boring. Nonetheless, these amateur films sometimes capture moments of contingency (the look at the camera, the unseemly exuberance of children) that expose the limits of this balancing act and the 'work' that underpins the perfonnance of monarchy. Conversely, in many cities across Scotland these royal encounters have been re-imagined in pageants and gala days also commemorated in amateur films. In these films, children take on royal functions, becoming fleshy 'effigies' of the monarch in ritualistic performances that dramatize the ambiguous origins of royal pageantry, whether the monarchs involved are 'real' or 'fake'.
Although the 1953 Coronation is remembered as a watershed in British television, 3,000 people paid to watch it on a cinema screen at the Royal Festival Hall. At that time cinema was still the dominant news medium, many people did not have access to television, and screens were small and picture quality indifferent. However, even in the current era of media fidelity, diversity and ubiquity, the viewing of royal events on big screens adjacent to the ' real' action has not lost its appeal - quite the contrary. An estimated one million people watched the Golden Jubilee concert on screens in the Mall, 90,000 watched the wedding ofWi11iam and Kate in Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square, while many of the millions who lined the River Thames for the Diamond Jubilee Pageant watched the event on the 50 screens along the route. What motivates people to travel to view the action on screens rather than at home? How should we understand such events and the experiences they produce? Are they mediated, or auratic? Are they a means, as Scott Mcquire suggests, of compensating for the fragmentation of community and audience? Are royal events on public screens qualitatively different to sporting or political events transmitted in a similar fashion? Does the content determine the nature of this spectatorship?
In 1992, Quentin Crisp appeared on cinema screens as Elizabeth I in Sally Potter's Orlando; the following year, he provided the 'Alternative Queen's Message' on Channel 4 television on Christmas Day, going head-to-head with Elizabeth II. This chapter will revisit this cultural moment, examining the significance of Crisp's perfonnances of 'queenliness'. The late 1980s/early 1990s heralded a shift away from the lesbian and gay politics of the 1970s and '80s towards a more confrontational queer activism. Orlando can be seen as an example of early queer cinema, given its play with gender and sexuality, and Potter's casting of Tilda Swinton (a regular collaborator of Derek Jannan). Other queer films of the time also unsettle and complicate particular moments in history, and equally employ a pointedly artificial mise-en-scene (Jannan's Edward II, Julien's Looking for Langston, Kalin's Swoon). How does Crisp's appearance - as an embodiment of the flaming, camp homosexual - complicate the film's politics of sexuality? Does it articulate a political ' clearing of the ground', with an older gay culture (Elizabeth) giving way to a fresh queer one (Orlando)? This chapter will consider the film as a provocative transition between particular forms of cultural production - bound up with changing attitudes towards the monarchy itself.
Royal weddings and the media promotion of British fashion
On the March 9, 2012 lTV morning television show Daybreak, British fashion expert Caryn Franklin said of the Duchess of Cambridge: 'she certainly does generate an enormous amount of money for the fashion industry. Anything she wears sells out instantly and certainly some of her favourite high street designers have posted record profits.' This chapter will look at the British screen media's promotion of the nation's fashion industry at home and abroad through its coverage of royal weddings. The 2011 marriage of Catherine Middleton and Prince William is its central subject, as a significant platform for the global promotion of British designers, both in the live BBC coverage of the event and the souvenir DVD highlights presenting an edited version with retrospective commentary. This will be compared to archive footage of British royal weddings across the 20111 century in Pathe newsreels, with references to other texts such as magazine articles and souvenir programmes, as well as the screen media coverage of other royal events.