Monday, May 04, 2020

The Queen at War, on PBS

When Queen Elizabeth II gave her rousing CCP-Virus speech, you could tell she was her father’s daughter (he was King George VI, the subject of The King’s Speech). She watched her father rally his nation first-hand, with the full knowledge she would one day succeed him. Viewers learn how World War II shaped young Princess Elizabeth into the iconic monarch we recognize today in the one-hour special, The Queen at War, produced and directed by Christopher Bruce, which premieres tomorrow on PBS.

Princess Elizabeth was only 13 years-old when the war broke out, but she was already keenly aware of her altered destiny. Unlike other privileged aristocratic children, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were never shipped off to the Americas for safe-keeping. As a result, they were keenly aware of the dangers of the Blitz. In fact, a German bomb nearly killed her parents, when it fell on Buckingham Palace. Ironically, that narrow miss was considered a blessing by the royal family, because it allowed them to console bombed-out East-Enders as equals. Tragically, they also shared their countrymen’s sense of loss when Elizabeth’s beloved uncle, Prince George, the Duke of Kent became the first Royal to die in military service in approximately 450 years.

Young Elizabeth was rarely further than Windsor, unless she was on a morale boosting tour, which was often. She also followed in her father’s footsteps, making war-time broadcasts to British children abroad. However, Elizabeth really felt like she had joined the war effort in earnest when she enlisted in the Auxiliary Territorial Services (somewhat equivalent to the WACS), making her the first woman in the Royal Family to serve full-time in active military service.

The Queen at War will definitely give viewers keen insight into the Queen’s famous stiff upper lip public persona and her iron resolve. It will also inspire genuine waves of new respect. Princess Elizabeth looks so young in the archival footage and still photos Bruce and editor Laurence Williamson intelligently and effectively incorporate throughout the program. It is rather amazing to imagine how much responsibility she assumed at such an innocent age.

Frankly, it is equally hard to imagine how Harry and Meghan Markle could stomach asking his grandmother (who served her country in uniform and personally visited grieving families during the Blitz) to let them step down from their royal duties, because the tabloid press is too mean. On the other hand, just how little must she think of their abilities to tell them: “look, just go to Canada and be done with it.”

Watching the Queen’s recent speech and Bruce’s chronicle of her wartime experiences could make us all Royalists again. She is undeniably a leader, who always put her country first. Bruce and company create an effective time capsule of the era and Phyllis Logan (from Downton Abbey) is a perfect choice for narrator. The resulting history lesson is quite informative and often quite stirring (especially since the parallels between the blitz and the CCP-Virus lock-down are inescapably obvious right now). Highly recommended (particularly for these trying times), The Queen at War airs tomorrow night (5/5) on most PBS outlets.