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TV review: EastEnders, Elizabeth: The unseen Queen, and Two Daughters

10 June 2022

BBC/Jack Barnes/Kieron McCarron

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall with members of the cast of EastEnders (BBC1, Thursday of last week)

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall with members of the cast of EastEnders (BBC1, Thursday of last week)

“IT’S all abaaht family.” The familiar mantra, undergirding for decades BBC1’s EastEnders, achieved an entirely unforeseen resonance in the episode on Thursday of last week, when the mystery celebrities promised to launch Albert Square’s Jubilee Party turned out to be none other than the real-life Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall.

The cast had secretly rehearsed the surprisingly long and complex sequence as best they could, but the royals were (to use a technical phrase) winging it: a single take demonstrated highly impressive spontaneity and ability to muck in with (actors pretending to be) common folk. By the end, it was clear that the heir to the throne and his consort had been entirely welcomed into the charmed circle of the Mitchell family, guaranteeing them thereafter unlimited reservoirs of sentimentality and alibis for criminal activity.

The televising throughout the weekend of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations received an unexpectedly moving preface in Elizabeth: The unseen Queen (BBC1, 29 May). This was a remarkable stitching together of never-before-broadcast private cine-footage shot by the royal family and narrated by snippets from her own speeches, so that almost everything we heard was in the Queen’s own voice. The revelation was the tenderness and immediacy of the relationships between the generations from monarchs — Georges V and VI — usually thought to be distant and stiff. It appears that daily life in the royal family might actually be fun.

This family theme provided some of TV’s most touching moments of the festivities: the Queen’s delighted conversation with her youngest great-grandson on the Buckingham Palace balcony; the sense of national continuity provided by seeing four generations all together; how surprisingly natural it felt for Prince Charles and the Duke of Cambridge to stand in for Her Majesty; and the participation by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in the service in St Paul’s Cathedral, suggesting reconciliation after a serious rift.

But Two Daughters (BBC2, 29 May) showed an utterly contrasting UK family life. Stacey Dooley’s sensitive documentary told the appalling story of the murder of the Ven. Wilhemina (Mina) Smallman’s two daughters (News, 19 June 2020, 9 July 2021). Such loss would be unendurable, but two further enormities undermined any complacency about the health of our society which the Platinum Jubilee might have suggested.

First, the police response to reports of the missing women was appallingly slow and off-hand, so that the family mounted a search party, and a fiancée found the bodies. He has not yet recovered from the trauma. Then, two of the police took selfies with the bodies, which they posted to colleagues. None of the subsequent reports has acknowledged the depths of institutional failure and racism which — in this documentary — seem blindingly obvious. Mrs Smallman is a priest: our first woman of colour to be appointed an archdeacon. Her faith and dignity saturated the film.

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