The British Monarchy on Screen (2)

This month saw the publication of The British Monarchy on Screen (Manchester University Press), containing my paper ‘Walbrook’s Royal Waltzes’ which examine AW’s performance as Prince Albert in the films Victoria the Great (1937) and Sixty Glorious Years (1938.) A few months ago I posted a preview of the book, which you can read here. The book has now arrived!

Picture

The first thing to strike the eye is, of course, the change of cover picture, and I must confess to feeling a stab of disappointment in seeing that Anton was no longer on the cover, unlike in the the original proposed version (right.) This photograph of AW and Anna Neagle together in Victoria the Great does however appear within my chapter along with another still from that film showing AW seated at the piano surrounded by young ladies of the royal court. Mine was not the only paper to look at Wilcox’s films, and Professor Steven Fielding’s ‘Heart of a Heartless World: Screening Victoria’ discusses the political aspects of the films in comparison with other screen portrayals of the queen.

Despite inevitable overlaps like the above, an impressively diverse range of films and television programmes come under scrutiny, beginning with Victoria’s early involvement with photography and her depiction in silent cinema – such as the lost Sixty Years a Queen (Barker & Samuelson, 1913) and Queen Elisabeth (Desfontaines & Mercanton, 1912) starring Sarah Bernhardt (below.)


Moving beyond Sarah Bernhardt’s performance, cinematic portrayals of Elizabeth I proved a popular subject for examination. One paper was devoted to Quentin Crisp’s casting in the role in Orlando (Sally Potter, 1993) while another cast a critical eye over a series of film interpretations – Flora Robson in Fire Over England (Korda,1937), Bette Davis in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (Curtiz, 1939) and The Virgin Queen (Koster, 1955), Jean Simmons in Young Bess (Sidney, 1953), Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth (Kapur, 1998) and its sequel Elizabeth: the Golden Age (Kapur, 2007) as well as Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love (Madden, 1998) – for which she won an Oscar, despite only being onscreen for about eight minutes.

Her award reflects something of the iconic prestige that is attached to screen portrayals of royalty – an association that received extensive, and sometimes critical, attention during the conference. One key theme was the way in which both the monarchy and film-makers exploit each other to further their own interests- The Queen (Frears, 2006), for example, was described by David Thomson as ‘the most sophisticated public relations boost HRH had had in twenty years’, while directors such as Herbert Wilcox were equally adept at endowing their promotional materials with symbols of regal status:

 The anthology also focussed on Young Victoria (Vallée, 2009), The King’s Speech (Hooper, 2010) and the TV series The Tudors (2007-10), as well as amateur film, an official documentary of Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Australia in 1954, and screenings of royal weddings and their relationship with the fashion industry. There are are a great many angles from which this subject could be approached, and no-one could fault this collection for its breadth of coverage. The ‘Walbrook’s Royal Waltzes’ chapter encompasses a number of these themes, including the relationship between the actor’s performance, his personal life and previous roles, the political context of the films’ production, the question of historical accuracy (in regard both to intention and execution), and the balance between artistic freedom and co-operation with the monarchy. Considerable work went into my paper on Walbrook – both the spoken version delivered in 2012 and the version that was written up for the printed page – and I am pleased to see how well it complements its companion pieces in the collection. It will be intriguing to see what the response is from readers and reviewers.
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Posted in Adolf Wohlbrück, Anna Neagle, Anton Walbrook.