We are not Amused – Representations of the Recent Past and the Monarchy

When the day tapers to an end, the boy and I always seem to end up pulling up something to watch on the laptop (no TV, don’t you know). And it’s a shame, because you know, we could read or listen to the radio, etc. We both love food and cooking, so a good part of the evening is already spent over cooking together and chat. And by the end of the day, after work and the library and whatever else crops up during the day, we just end up propped up in bed (no couch) with an episode of Jamie Oliver (anything Jamie Oliver) or whatever. So last week, on a night where yet again the laptop was chosen over books yet again, I decided that it was about time we watched The Queen. I’d seen the film before and knew that it was quiet and thoughtful—the right sort of thing for a quiet evening. The boy, however, despite being British (or perhaps, as I’ll get to, because of it) hadn’t seen it.

Whenever I’d mentioned it he’d sort of pulled away from it, shied away. He doesn’t have an interest in watching it, he says.  And, for me, it really highlights this very odd relationship many who live in the United Kingdom have with the monarchy. The interesting thing is not a passionate love or hate, this is reserved for the government. And the government is very clearly separate, unlike the United States where we hold the president responsible for things that seem outside his control. That being said, the American president does have exceedingly more executive power than the Queen, who at this point seems to ask the Prime Minister to run her government every couple of years, advises said government, and then does appearances/ceremonies that require the clout of history and tradition. But as far as the United Kingdom’s citizens are concerned, it seems the day-to-day approach (for most, not generalizing) is a sort of passive aggressive disinterest. And this seems like a contradiction in terms, but it’s not in this instance—this total resistance to even suggest that the monarchy might matter to them or that they’re at all interested in it. It’s old, it’s tired, and (they suggest though they never ACTUALLY want to get rid of it) unnecessary. The young royals are media spectacles and the old royals are . . . figureheads, relics of a bygone era. However, it is something that is more ingrained in their culture than they’d like to admit, I think, and I challenge anyone to not melt their chilly disposition while in direct blast of the Royal Presence.

But I’m waffling (as usual) to my actual point: there are minefields upon minefields of complexities when dealing with recent past, in any medium. The recent past evokes personal emotion and any attempt at analysis is shrouded with bias. People remember Diana’s death and the days surrounding it. The boy also mentioned to me that public opinion re: the monarchy wasn’t strong at that point regardless—something that I failed to remember, nor would I really have been in the position to know. But I do remember the shock and the sadness, and the intangible connection people felt towards her public image.  And it must still be implausible to many, that her public face and private person could be two separate things. Not taking away from Diana as a mother and as a humanitarian, but it’s very possible that her behaviour became a bit of a thorn in the institution’s side. Not only as a juxtaposition of modernity versus ‘outdated’ traditionalism, but creating a (mostly unasked for) media circus and creating a precedence for royalty in the media—something previously unheard of.  And all the business side, the guarding of privacy, is inextricably wrapped up in human emotion: worry about the emotional effects on son and grandchildren, as well as the emotional trauma of making a personal/professional mistake that complicated and hurt a lot of people on both sides (the approved choice of Diana over Camilla). On this front, the film balances sympathy and recognition of the tragedy of Diana’s death and the feelings and emotions of the Royal Family at the time.

But this of course fails to mention Tony Blair, the Labour wunderkind who fell from grace during the Iraqi War-Bush era. In 1997, the Labour party (or NEW Labour party) won the election in a landslide after completely revamping their platform post-Thatcher. The party’s handling of Diana and the monarchy shot Tony Blair into the public opinion stratosphere, as the film depicts. In the film, the Queen prophesizes that the public would turn on him, ruthlessly; I find this to be a convenient addendum formed from the 20/20 vision of hindsight. It’s so easy to put our current thoughts and feelings into an analysis of the recent past because it all feels so close together.

Of course, this does not mean that the distant past isn’t just as problematic in often very similar if not the same ways.

Yes, I signed up for this.

And in case anyone was wondering, yes he liked the film.

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