Review: 'Being The Queen'

Post by: Rick Ellis 31 August, 2020

I will be to admit that I am likely not the optimal target audience for a television special that has any connection to the British Royal Family. It's not that I have any passionate dislike of them, I am just not especially interested in hearing about the Monarchy. I'll hear a news report about one of it's members and afterwards, all I'll recall is the phrase "Today, Prince Andrew said.." and then the next thing you know I'll wake up from the best 45 minutes sleep I've had in months.

So I approached the new NatGeo special Being The Queen the same way I approach all royalty-related programming: with a mixture of dread and anticipation for enjoying some much-needed sleep.

But watching Being The Queen reminded me that while Queen Elizabeth II is frozen in our collective minds as this stoic, elderly matron, she is intertwined with the history of post-WWII Britain. Utilizing lots of archival footage and interviews with former staff and confidants, the one-hour special puts together a fascinating portrait of Elizabeth the person, not the Queen. Or, at least as much of an intimate portrait as you are likely to get about someone who has believed all of her life that duty comes before everything.

The first 2/3 of the special focus on the earlier years of her life and her reign and that was the most interesting part of her story for me. The daughter of a man who wasn't supposed to be King, her father's sudden death propelled her to the role of Queen at a time when both England and the monarchy were in flux. Serving as Queen brings a lot of challenging responsibilities and requires personal sacrifices most people couldn't accept. And Being The Queen doesn't shy away from the personal prices she paid. She was extremely hands-off with her children and as Queen she was forced to step in several times with her younger sister Margaret. Most notably in the early 1950s when Princess Margaret was considering a marriage to Peter Townsend, an older, divorced man. 

The archival footage from that period is really wonderful and it allows the special's producers to really flesh out those early stories of Elizabeth's reign. But 2/3 of the way through the special, it jumps somewhat jarringly to the life and death of Princess Diana. Which I understand from a programming point of view. But that part of the story has been told a thousand times before and despite some valiant efforts, this part of the special is a lot less compelling. Honestly, I would have been happier if the special had spent that 20 minutes fleshing out more of Queen Elizabeth II's earlier reign. And the jump to focusing on Diana also makes for some unfortunate editorial choices. For instance, while the special devotes some time to Elizabeth's marriage and the challenges they faced once she became Queen, he basically disappear's from her story after the mid-1950s.

The good news is that Being The Queen is much better than the average special devoted to a member of the Royal Family. It's more of historical take on the life of Queen Elizabeth II than you might expect and that aspect makes it a fascinating special.

The bad news is that I still need a nap.

Last modified on Tuesday, 01 September 2020 14:54