Elizabeth: A Portrait in Parts – Film Review
by Hugh Maguire
StarQueen Elizabeth II(archive footage)
Release date – May 27, 2022
There were few televisions in Ireland in 1953 and other than in Northern Ireland, there was limited exposure to BBC. World events were depicted on the evocative newsreels projected in cinemas the length and breadth of the island when ‘going to the pictures’ was as normal as a skinny latte has become for many today. The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953 was not only the first live broadcast of its kind across the United Kingdom but was recorded on film to be broadcast days later in cinemas worldwide. The event and all its elaborate, sometimes arcane, rituals and ceremonies were captured for millions to witness as never before. As cries of ‘Vivat Regina’ rang out across Westminster Abbey it suggested the dawning of a new Elizabethan Age with a whiff of post-war triumphalism thrown in for good measure. The event was not shown in any cinema in Dublin for the simple reason the owners feared for their premises, and we are not talking about the enthusiasm that shook the Theatre Royal when Bill Haley and the Comets arrived in 1957. No Queen here, thank you very much!
The carefully calibrated State Visit of the royal couple to Ireland in 2011 acknowledged the depth of a changed relationship. Regardless of the politics of a monarchy versus a republic, subject versus citizen, there was undoubted respect for the resolute determination of an even then elderly woman keeping the show on the road, the ready smile, the constant shaking of hands, not to mention the cúpla focal in Dublin Castle. So there is now an audience that might not have existed in 1953.
Something of the industry that was, and is, the monarch is the subject of this feature-length documentary, and even documentary is something of a misnomer. Instead, what we have here is a fascinating exercise in editing what must come to millions of hours of footage and imagery of the world’s longest-serving head of state. Certain themes are indicated and the imagery speaks for itself. A sense of 50s and 60s glamour is echoed in footage of stars like Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe arriving in fur wraps at glitzy events, and we see the Queen similarly attired. We see footage of a Semana Santa procession somewhere in Spain and then images of the queen being carried aloft on litters or elephants in Fiji, India and elsewhere, emphasising the concept of the monarch as a quasi-religious icon, a theme captured in the Annie Leibovitz shot employed for publicity, we see how this has been used so universally for seventy years, on coinage, stamps and banknotes. The image is so universally recognised it is hard to know how people will cope when it ceases, as ceases it must. The most human footage is that depicting the lifelong devotion to horses and horseracing, and while she is far from a fishwife, there is an almost earthy enthusiasm for the gallop and the winning of bets, which implies a stronger personality than we have maybe imagined. Ultimately, and not in a sentimental way, there is a marked poignancy. For all the decades on the throne, the time has still flown. There has been domestic, family, national and international trauma along with all the good times and we are left with the images of a 96-year-old who lived fully the life she was born to. What happens hereafter is anyone’s guess.