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TV review: The Coronation of HM the King

12 May 2023


The King, in a simple white shirt, before his anointing (The Coronation of HM the King (BBC1, Saturday))

The King, in a simple white shirt, before his anointing (The Coronation of HM the King (BBC1, Saturday))

WAS it the Church of England’s crowning moment? As The Coronation of HM the King (BBC1, Saturday) demonstrated, it most certainly was, in the literal sense; but what about metaphorically speaking? Many commentators have expressed with some surprise what we all know and should have been blindingly obvious to all: that this was, above all, a religious service, deeply serious in intent and execution.

The cameras emphasised how much this was, theatrically speaking, a two-hander: King and Archbishop carried everything forward, and it was Archbishop Welby’s triumph to make this most solemn of liturgies not just formal and constitutional, but one of personal relationship. They would both, of course, insist that it was most certainly a three-hander, everything flowing from, and upheld by, Almighty God, most especially in the person of the Holy Spirit, invoked throughout in prayer and action.

The televising of the ceremony — as it had been, sensationally, for the first time, in 1953 — demonstrated a paradox. By showing us every detail of the King’s vesting and reception of the regalia, the cameras obscure the fact that, facing the altar but away from almost everyone present, the high-backed King Edward’s Chair makes these actions invisible not just to us common folk, but also to almost everyone present: it is witnessed only by the tiny group of clergy and aristocrats actually performing the rituals.

Now, we can all see them; but, to deepen the paradox, this 360-degree visual coverage, laying bare everything to our gaze, was most powerful in not showing the most sacred action. The anointing, hidden behind a triple screen, expressed in our all-revealing age mythic power by remaining invisible and inaudible. Television, like other art forms, is at its strongest when it dares to remain blank and silent.

Then came, for me, the most moving moment of all: as the screens were removed, we saw the newly anointed King stand before God’s altar in a simple white shirt, not merely humble, but vulnerable. The clergy vested him in golden, jewel-encrusted robes — not in triumph, but tenderly, preparing him for the crowning, which, while certainly a glorification, has perhaps never more clearly been a laying-on of a most heavy burden.

Surely, though, this Coronation was our Church’s crowning moment in this: the natural ease with which she welcomed and encompassed all the innovations. The child whose greeting opened the service; the King’s response expressing immediately the central theme of not being served, but serving; the involvement, wherever possible, of other Christian denominations and faiths; the inclusion and diversity throughout; languages, music, and actions — not least in our own global- majority-heritage women bishops.

In 1953, the Queen was the solitary woman ministered to by elderly white males. Today, mirroring our society, TV has moved from black-and-white to colour. For those with eyes to see, the Coronation demonstrated far more than our Church’s glorious traditions.

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