Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Royals on BBC

By David Luhrssen
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 America may have thrown off the British monarchy with the Revolutionary War, but America’s fascination with the royals has—if anything—only increased over time and distance. A four-disc box set culled from BBC-TV specials, “The Royal Collection,” offers many insights into the politics and pageantry. It includes features on the likely future king, the likable Prince William, and on George V, the figurehead during World War I. The disc devoted to the 1953 coronation of the long-reigning Elizabeth II is fascinating for its glimpses of a young and vibrant-looking woman not yet tired from wearing the heavy crown, and for the meticulous planning behind the first coronation of the live television age.

 Trivia for movie buffs: British film producer Alexander Korda, known for such costume pictures as The Private Life of Henry VIII and The Thief of Baghdad, provided horse-drawn carriages for the royals from his studio.

 “Queen Victoria’s Children” is a surprising look at the monarch who came to symbolize the dour repression of her namesake Victorian Age. The documentary shows a sexually voracious and spontaneous woman whose marriage to her first cousin, Prince Albert, was a love match. Albert was also in love, but physically challenged by his demanding wife and bruised in ego from his secondary role. He was one of the only husbands in the world at that time that was not, legally speaking, master of his own house. The palace echoed with arguments.

The couple had nine children, raised according to the often-problematic psychological theories of the day. In the words of one of the academics interviewed for the documentary, the princes and princesses were viewed as “tricky engineering projects” whose outcomes could be determined with proper planning. Some aspects of the royal upbringing were invaluable. The oldest, Vickie, was learning French before she was two. But when one of her sisters hit the wrong note on the piano, Albert rapped her hands with a ruler.

Victoria and Albert’s project was to present the royal family as a model for the nation, loving and close-knit, embodying ideals for which their subjects should aspire. The idea of the royal family as the symbolic community at the head of the nation has endured into the 21st century, but like any family, they have had their rough moments.

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