Photo: Courtesy of British Pathé | Prince Charles introduces the Queen to his teachers and classmates, 1957.
Whether you’re a citizen of Great Britain, a distant admirer of its history, or a dedicated Anglophile, it’s certainly been a year for celebrating all that’s great about the country. It’s a special year, of course, for Queen Elizabeth II as the world has celebrated her Diamond Jubilee. For those of us in the States PBS has been offering programming to honor Her Majesty (which I wrote about in Upcoming Programs for Fans of Downton Abbey) and next month PBS is bringing us another tribute, as heartfelt as the others but from an altogether different perspective: a documentation to honor the queen as compiled and narrated by her son. In “Royal Memories: Prince Charles’ Tribute to the Queen” (9/2, 8pm), which premiered to over ten million viewers in the UK during the Diamond Jubilee, the Prince of Wales offers viewers an opportunity to join him in his salute to Queen Elizabeth, honoring her reign through the eyes of a devoted son.
Photo: Courtesy of Clarence House
The documentary, which is narrated in its entirety by Prince Charles alone, features a selection of memories from the Prince’s young life that follow the early years of his mother’s reign. Through personal film footage and photographs the viewer is given a look inside the private life of the royal family, and it allows us an unprecedented opportunity to see the Queen as her son sees her. The result of the film is a deeply personal experience as Prince Charles allows the camera to accompany his foray into the Queen’s personal cine film collection, unveiling footage that even the Prince himself had not previously seen. We are afforded the opportunity to visit Buckingham Palace as the Queen leaves on the day of her coronation, as well as a perfectly touching scene when Her Majesty posed for a very young Prince Charles to film her alongside his pony and an iconic royal Corgi. The film reels are interspersed with Prince Charles’ examination of the Queen’s personal photo albums, which showcase photos she herself snapped on royal voyages and family vacations alike. The simple realization that she documented her children’s lives through a scrapbook-style photo album, penning alongside the photos a description to commemorate the day, allows us as viewers, of admirers of an iconic and universally celebrated woman, to reach a truly mesmerizing understanding of her personal dedication to her family. Footage filmed presumably by Prince Phillip wherein a young Queen Elizabeth plays with a baby Prince Charles and encourages his eventual first steps; Prince Charles and Princess Anne playing in the beach while their mother films their antics. It’s the simplest moments of “Royal Memories” that reach out and touch the heart of the viewers. This is the film that offers perhaps the most coveted glimpse of the Queen, as both a monarch and a mother.
Photo: Courtesy of Buckingham Palace
at Holkham Beach, 1957
While it’s delivered in the respectably classic style of all aspects of the monarchy, “Royal Memories” has an informal quality that contributes to its pure appeal. The uniqueness that Prince Charles has contributed to the documentary – beyond its very personal, very rare footage – is the feeling of sitting down with the Prince of Wales to hear his stories, the stories of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. He takes us through the halls of Buckingham Palace, examines portraits of the women who set the standard that the Queen so dutifully carries on, and he points them out to us – the jewels they’re wearing and how his mother has worn them on various occasions, which of these relatives of the monarchy he can remember from his own youth. And while he ventures into his childhood through the many documentations we, the viewers, transition slightly from welcomed audience to quiet observers. We see at once a prince reflecting on the monarch he has served all his life, and a son fondly remembering the mother he admires so greatly. Each perspective honors the Queen, and each speaks volumes to the enduring legacy of a woman who has spent her life in service to the people of her realm and perhaps elsewhere, offering us all a stronghold – a portrait of a constant woman, monarch and mother – in an ever-changing world.
Royal Memories: Prince Charles’ Tribute to the Queen will premiere on September 2, 2012 at 8:00pm ET on PBS. Stay up to date on this and other programs and check your local listings on PBS.org. A screener of the program was provided for the purpose of review.