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Royal family in focus

29 April 2016


WE HAVE all been part of group photographs at family gatherings; we have all experienced the fun and frustration of trying to find where Great Aunt Agatha has wandered off to, or of encouraging the children to face the right way. But, usually, one of us is not wearing the imperial state crown.

One of the most fascinating sequences in Elizabeth at 90: A family tribute (BBC1, Thursday of last week) was excerpts from the film that the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh had personally commissioned to record the activities backstage, as it were, on Coronation Day, and the process of getting everyone to get into position for the formal photograph back at the Palace encapsulated the absorbing interest of the programme.

For, on the one hand, they are entirely normal: little Prince Charles thinking it enormous fun to hide under his grandmother’s velvet train, the Duke of Edinburgh chivvying everyone along. And, on the other, they are unique. At the centre the young Queen, exhibiting clearly, to avowed sacramentalists such as myself, that she was now an anointed monarch, set apart by God and the consent of her people.

This was a compilation of clips from the royal family’s personal archive of home movies, a hobby keenly followed by the Queen’s father besides Her Majesty and the Duke, the films watched and commented on by members of the family. As with everyone’s home movies, the most common response was “I’ve never seen this before.”

The younger generations were delighted to see their parents and grandparents playing with the same toys as they had, and naturally enjoying the same pastimes — above all, rolling down a grassy bank — and were impressed by the sheer glamour of the sequences from the beginning of the Queen’s reign. The older ones were moved to be reminded of the glories of their youth. Best of all, the Queen herself showed that at 90 she still has the sharpest memory of all, effortless remembering names and places from nearly a century ago. It was all rather moving.

The Prince of Wales, who put together the Queen’s film clips, turned up not merely as guest of honour but also played a climactic walk-on part in one of the more embarrassing scenes in TV celebrations of last week’s other big anniversary: Shakespeare Live! From the RSC (BBC2, Saturday).

This commemorated the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death with a hit-and-miss assemblage of words, music, and dance. Seeking to appeal to all heights of brow, the comedy is best passed over; but the excerpts from operas and ballets inspired by Shakespeare saved the day — as did the galaxy of stars performing scenes from the plays. Ultimately, it was terrific.

A more recent national-by-adoption treasure was commemorated on the centenary of his birth in Yehudi Menuhin: Who’s Yehudi? (BBC4, Sunday). His astonishing violin-playing was balanced by a passionate engagement with human rights, and with education; and his courageous exploration beyond the Western classical tradition embraced jazz, Indian, and Gypsy music, playing for GIs, Belsen survivors, and the homeless.

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