Monday, October 24, 2011

DVD Review: British Royal Weddings of the 20th Century

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2011
Images from the Internet

British Royal Weddings of the 20th Century
British Pathé / Cherry Red Films
184 minutes, USD $19.95

Why, you may ask, as an American, did I ask to review a three-hour long DVD collection of British royal weddings over the past century? For one reason: my mother-in-law [M-I-L].

She is of Norwegian descent (with a mix of German), but has been a loyal Canadian her whole life, and her favorite famous person in the world is the Queen Mother (she has often stated that her lone regret in this area was that she never had the opportunity to give the QM a hug). Her house proudly displays a ceramic plate with the image of the QM as a 7-year-old. Other plates include Queen Elizabeth and a wedding image of Charles and Diana (whom she also adores). She is now thinking about getting one of William and Katherine’s nuptials.

So, I figured, what a nice bonding moment it would be to sit down with her and watch the DVD together. Despite its length, it turned out to be a good idea. I actually received it the week before the most recent royal wedding, but finally got to sit down with M-I-L in late October. We spent the afternoon watching history of a century go by.

This collection is a compilation of thirteen films and, later, television newsreels and specials focused on the weddings (and occasional engagements) of the British royalty (i.e., the Windsor family), all put out by the British Pathé company through the years. After a brief foreword of short clips from many of the films to come, a narrator gives a pomp and circumstantial lofty introduction, as Sir Edgar Elgar’s appropriate “Pomp and Circumstance” plays in the background (sans graduation).

Of course, the first few weddings are silent, with music played over them, starting with two from 1922: Princess Mary to Henry Charles George, Viscount Lascelles, and Lord Louis Mountbatten to Miss Edwina Ashley. Yes, part of the fun of this collection is the sheer weight of some of the names and titles, displayed at the beginning of each segment in a title card that includes the full names/titles, year of wedding, and place of the nuptial (usually Westminster Abbey), which is quite helpful. What is also nice for those history buffs, the date of release of the pieces are each identified by caption, even when there is more than one segment per chapter (some have engagement, wedding, leaving for honeymoon, etc.), which were released at different times.

It takes a number of nuptials before we actually see films of the wedding proper, as the early ones show the people entering the Abbey before the ceremony, and then leaving after. It isn’t until Princess (now Queen) Elizabeth’s marriage to Philip Mountbatten that we actually see the inside of the chapel and the wedding itself. Unfortunately, they don’t include sound for this particular one, as I wondered if they made Elizabeth to say “honor and obey,” which is ickily included in all the other ceremonies going forward. As Queen, does Elizabeth have to “obey” her consort? Okay, enough musing…

The biggest problem I had with all of this is, well, I’m a Yank and so I didn’t grow up with royal family being in the news constantly. Frankly, there were so many of whom I never even heard of. Sure, Prince Albert and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (who would later be known as the Queen Mother mentioned above, whose 1923 wedding is included here), Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret are people with whom I am familiar, but there are many not so much, such as Princess Alexandra or Prince Henry. For some, even my royalty-loving M-I-L was not sure. I would have liked to have a family tree included in the package.

On the other hand, if one has the time and sits through the entire package, as we did, it is enjoyable to watch Princess Elizabeth go from a very young girl and grow into the matriarch. Similarly with Prince Charles, who starts out as a young and rambunctious boy.

The pièce de résistance is the final two weddings of the main section, namely Charles and Di (1981) and Andrew and Fergie (1986). As one follows the other, it is striking how different their personalities are…er…were. Diana is demure and seemingly bemused, if not overwhelmed, where Sarah is boisterous and certainly not a wallflower. And through both, I have to admit, I kept looking through the crowd wondering if I could catch a glimpse of Camilla…

For me, the most interesting aspect about the collection is not what is different, but the same through the entire number of years. For example, the identical 1902 open top horse-drawn coach is used to bring the groom to the chapel whenever the ceremony is held in London (as most are), and similarly the full coach that brings the brides (“The bluest skies you’ve ever seen in…”), and the again open one as they ride off to their party or honeymoon. Another consistency is the shot of the couple on the balcony, waving to the crowds. It was curious to observe that even at her 1947 wedding Elizabeth had that wrist-turning non-wave down pat. And, of course, there are the humungous masses of onlookers and well-wishers outside Buckingham Palace surging to see a glimpse of the new royal couple.

The bonus features are, well, more weddings, and a couple of alternative reports of ones already shown. Some of the most obscure names for me are in here, such as George Lascelles, 7th Earl of Harewood (1949). What I find surprising is the inclusion of Prince Edward to Sophie Rhys-Jones (1999) placed here rather than in the main section. But quibble, quibble, quibble.

This is certainly a comprehensive look at the pageantry that surrounds a royal wedding, and how celebrity attraction by the multitude is hardly a new issue.

But the biggest royal fan in the room while we were watching this was my M-I-L, who was a bit exhausted from the whole experience, but nonetheless happy, having enjoyed seeing the Queen Mother go from young woman at her wedding through old age, and following the royal family as they shared their happiest days, no matter what the later outcomes would bring.

Weddings included
Princess Mary weds Henry Charles George, Viscount Lascelles (1922)
Lord Louis Mountbatten weds Miss Edwina Ashley (1922)
Prince Albert, Duke of York weds Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (1923)
Prince George, Duke of Kent weds Princess Marina of Greece (1934)
Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester weds Lady Alice Scott (1935)
Princess Elizabeth weds Philip Mountbatten, Due of Edinburgh (1947)
Princess Margaret weds Anthony Armstrong-Jones (1960)
Prince Edward, Duke of Kent weds Miss Katherine Worsley (1961)
Princess Alexandra weds Mr. Angus Ogilvy (1963)
Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester weds Miss Birgitte van Deurs (1972)
Princess Anne weds Lieutenant Mark Phillips (1973)
Prince Charles weds Lady Diana Spencer (1981)
Prince Andrew weds Miss Sarah Ferguson (1986)
Princess Patricia weds Commander Alexander Ramsay (1919)
George Lascelles, 7th Earl of Harewood weds Miss Marion Stein (1949)
Lady Pamela Mountbatten weds Mr. David Hicks (1960)
Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones (alternative report)
Prince Edward weds Miss Sophie Rhys-Jones (1999)
Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten (alternative report)

No comments:

Post a Comment