It seems that periodically (usually around the time the monarchy experiences a surge of popularity), there’s some vocal whiners that raise their voices and bleat: “But what do they do? The royals just laze around and we pay for it!” Well, actually, working members of the royal family do quite a lot, and you don’t pay for all of it (only expenses incurred on official business can really be paid by the taxpayers). The queen regularly carries out something in the neighborhood of 400 official engagements and audiences every year, which means she’s doing more than one of these per day. The woman’s 85 years old. How many 85-year-olds do you know who are still doing their day jobs? Which they’ve held their whole damn lives?
And it’s not just engagements (which can be taxing to someone of any age) that take up her day. She also gets and reads regular official documents from the government, meets with ministers and ambassadors, keeps up with what’s going on in Parliament and in the country, performs investitures, and receives the Prime Minister once a week for a chat. I repeat, this woman is 85 years old. And she has to do all this with a smile and a kind word for everyone, even if her feet hurt or she has a headache or just got out of bed on the wrong side that day. And she can never have a hair out of place, because then the press will pounce on her. Let’s ease up on her two weeks at Balmoral, shall we?
Anyway, for those who aren’t convinced that the queen is a busy lady, a camera crew was allowed to follow her and other members of the royal family around for a while to see just what goes on behind the scenes. It’s not a perfect documentary by a long shot, but it’s pretty fascinating and gives a very rare glimpse into the life of a modern monarch.
To the tune of plinky piano music, we’re taken inside Buckingham Palace, where some American is recording what appears to be a newscast, attributing the queen’s popularity to the movie, The Queen, which I think is totally stupid. The narrator tells us it’s spring 2007 andAmerica’s getting ready to welcome Queen Elizabeth for a visit. Ahead of the trip, Annie Liebowitz is going to photograph her majesty. Those of you with long memories will recall some controversy Annie Liebowitz that came out after this particular photo shoot, in which someone on Annie’s team claimed the queen was difficult and Annie herself had to defend her sitter.
Ahead of all that, Annie arrives at BP to scope out the rooms and decide where to shoot. The queen’s press secretary seems weirdly nervous about an American doing the photography, like she thinks Liebowitz is going to superimpose a swastika on the queen or have her flash gang signs or something. She gets it, lady. Well, kind of, as we’ll see later.
The narrator pipes up with his own dumb comment, reminding us that Annie shot Demi Moore pregnant and naked back in the day and claiming that asking her to shoot the queen is “positively daring.” Ok, folks, come on now. That was years ago, and she’s shot plenty of other demure photos since (and several daring ones, but let’s ignore that for now). She’s a world-famous photographer, it’s not at all daring to ask her to take a picture of Queen Elizabeth. You’re not helping to counteract the monarchy’s uptight image with these asinine comments.
Annie—who startlingly sounds like a man—interviews that she thinks it’s cool she’ll be photographing the queen, and that she understands that this is a big deal. She reveals that she’s a big fan of the simplicity of Cecil Beaton’s work.
The narrator comes in again to say that Liebowitz asked to photograph the queen on a horse in the state apartments. Ok, that was pretty stupid of her. We know the queen loves her horses, but I’m pretty sure she doesn’t ride them around state apartments filled with priceless antiques, you know? And she’s the queen, so let’s not do the gimmicky pics. Naturally, that got shot right down.
Photo shoot day. The Press secretary tells us they’ve got a lot planned for a little bit of time and it all relies on everything going smoothly. Which you know means it’s all going to go to hell in a handbasket within seconds. Annie’s there with 11 assistants and her daughter, and they’re ready to go, but the queen’s outfit—the full regalia of the Order of the Garter—is taking forever to go on, so the shoot’s running 15 minutes late. She arrives at last and Annie’s daughter gives her some flowers, which is cute. The queen apologizes for the hold up and hustles everyone into the room where they’ll be shooting, because she’s a busy lady and they need to get a move on.
The shoot commences, and Annie absurdly decides at the last minute that she wants the queen tiara-free. Oh, Annie, come on. You don’t just plop one of those things on your head and hope for the best. The guy who did Kate’s hair for the wedding had to go to special lessons at the Palace to learn how to anchor one of those things in. Once they’re there, they’re there, because it’s not the kind of thing you want flying off your head if you turn too fast. The queen actually cracks up at the very idea that they just take the thing off, and her dresser tells Annie that’s a no go. They compromise by agreeing to have her take it off for later pictures. I think that was the part where people said the queen was being a pain, but she wasn’t. The people she was working with were being kind of ignorant.
The shoot finishes and everyone takes off while a footman wrestles the queen’s robes into a garment bag. Annie interviews that she really liked the queen and found her feisty and funny.
In Richmond, Virginia, the queen’s first stop on her trip to the U.S., a team’s going over the details of her visit. She’s going to be commemorating the 400th anniversary of the founding ofJamestown, so there’re all kinds of special events going on. The governor’s staff is in charge of a lot of it, and they’ve drafted in a couple hundred extra hands to help out. The governor’s chief of staff gets right to business by forcing everyone in the room to sing “I feel good.” Way to be professional, CoS.
Let me just say now that I had a bit of an issue with how this was edited. There was a smugness to it. This program really made it seem like many of the Americans were either total morons or just unprofessional yahoos, whereas the Brits always seem cool, collected, and totally professional at all times. I’m sure the subjects helped out a bit—I doubt they staged this stupid moment, but I feel like there was a heavy editing hand here, and I can’t help but resent it. We’re not all rubes, thank you very much.
So, we don’t really get to see much of the actual planning for the visit, because we’re too busy with karaoke and the governor’s chief of staff forgetting what day of the week it is. Someone who’s a little more with it fills the staff in on royal protocol (stand when the queen enters the room, don’t hug her, stuff like that). One of the volunteers later interviews that she thinks it’s awfully nice of the queen to come over and help them celebrate.
The Director of Virginia’s Royal Welcome (is that a real job? Can I apply for that?) interviews that they’ve been having secret meetings for months relating to the visit.
There’s a bit of stress about some construction work on the capitol building possibly not being done on time, and the man in charge says he went online to try and find out the queen’s favorite flowers, which is not a fact you can find on her Wikipedia entry, so he just hopes she likes red, white, and blue. I’m sure she won’t be offended.
Virginia Governor Kaine and his wife are being run through their paces, since they’ll be in charge of greeting and squiring around the queen and Prince Philip. Kaine says he just has to remember how to address her and not to touch her.
Back across the pond, plans are being finalized for a farewell reception the queen will be hosting at BP, which will be attended by prominent Americans living in England. They’ve got a bunch of American journalists coming in to find out just what goes on behind the scenes for a party like this. A Washington Post journalist interviews that BP is the first place Americans stop whenever they come over toEngland, which is totally not true at all. I for one have never, ever been to BP in all the times I’ve been toEngland. I didn’t even go there when I was living there for two whole months, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. In fact, I don’t think any of the other people I studied abroad with went there either.
The Deputy Master of the Household is in charge of the press meeting. One of the journalists asks if they do anything different in terms of food or drink when Americans come to visit. Like deep fry everything? The DMoH says that most foreigners expect English food when they visit the Queen of England, and the journalist laughs and says she doubts most Americans think of themselves as “foreigners” when they’re inEngland. Oh, come on. Don’t be so daft, lady. They sure don’t think of themselves as English, and the people around them certainly aren’t Americans, so I think they do, actually, think of themselves as foreigners.
DMoH leads the journalists on a tour of the ballroom and the kitchens, where some of the chefs show them the hors d’oeuvres and the 300-year-old cookware. Damn. I love the George III pots. They sure knew how to make ‘em back then, didn’t they? Can you think of anything you own now that’s likely to still be used in more than 300 years?
Party time! 350 people show up and are personally greeted by the queen and Prince Philip. Jerry Hall talks about how closeEnglandandAmericahave always been (aside form that pesky War of Independence and the equally pesky War of 1812, I guess). I’ve never heard her speak before—does she always sound drunk and/or high?
While the camera pans through the party, the narrator comes back to inform us that the queen’s first state visit to Americain 1957 was to commemorate the 350th anniversary ofJamestown. And now, 50 years later, she’s back to do it again.
We head to the Williamsburg Inn inVirginia, where the queen stayed in 1957 and where she’ll stay again this time around. The manager tells us the lobby’s going to look almost exactly the same as it did 50 years ago. I’m not sure that’s really a selling point. I’ve seen décor from the 50’s. There are wet paint signs up all over the place and the staff is hard at work whipping the place into shape. The Guest Operations Manager shows the cameras into the queen’s suite, where they’re installing a full-length mirror at her majesty’s request. GOM gets all worked up because tags are showing on the towels, which is kind of an odd little moment. This episode is full of those strange, awkward little moments.
Down in the kitchen, the staff is doing a run-through for the gala banquet her majesty and VIPs, including the governor and the Vice President, will be attending. The chefs whip fancy dishes out for the manager so they can get the timing down. Servers only have 3 minutes to serve each course. Yikes! For 350 people? How many servers do they have?
Back up in the suite, the head of housekeeping shows off the brand new toilet seat. I swear to god. See what I mean about the weird little moments?
The trip’s got diplomatic overtones, so the queen’s private secretary is helping her redraft a speech she’ll give inVirginia, tweaking it in light of the Virginia Tech shooting. He shows her his changes and she gives them the ok, so all they have to do is get the go-ahead from the government, which has to approve her speeches.
Stagehands are busy erecting giant tents outside the capitol building inVirginia. One of them talks about how cool it is that she’s so old and still kicking around. It’s now May 2, and the queen’s visit is a mere 24 hours away. TheRichmondpeople start to stress about rain. We get about five minutes of them talking about rain and looking at radar, and then getting rained on. Rain, rain rain. Drains not working! Drains fixed! Hey, the sky’s lightening up over there, isn’t it ? (No, it’s not). They really needed filler for this, didn’t they?
InLondon, hilariously, it’s brilliantly sunny. The bags are packed (and equally hilariously, the queen’s luggage is marked “The Queen”) and the royal equerry’s going over the plans one last time.RichmondtoWilliamsburgtoJamestowntoLexingtonto DC to home. Got that?
The hotel staff inVirginiameet for a final pep rally and cookie bribe. They also get etiquette guides so they know not to hug the queen or tell her about how much they hate their son-in-law or whatever. Housekeeping puts sheets on the bed, making sure to tell us the sheets have been washed four times. Uh, thanks? Is that important?
The first lady of Virginia, Mrs. Kaine, chatters nervously about how excited she is, and she’s fine—fine! Totally fine! She’s responsible for the Duke of Edinburgh, and she pronounces it ‘Edin-berg’, which makes me cringe and die a little on the inside. Please, please tell me someone pulled this foolish woman aside at some point before he arrived and told her the proper pronunciation. Considering she’s responsible for him, you’d think someone would have done that early on.
The narrator informs us that the queen is mostly revered by older people, and to illustrate that, they find two elderly ladies who’ve taken up primo spots in front of the capitol and think this is going to be soooo great for the kids who’re participating with their high school bands, and how those kids will have such great stories to tell their grandkids.
Yeah. Those kids? Don’t give a crap. They don’t even really know who the queen is, as the interviews show. Or, at least, the part of the interviews we get to see show.
The queen and her entourage arrive via British Airways and get the full red-carpet treatment. The crowd at the capitol cheers when they hear the queen has landed. Back at the airport, there’s some tiny snafu with the height of the stairs. At the capitol, two photographers almost come to fisticuffs over some spot they both want. Well, that was a fun little interlude.
The queen arrives at the capitol and starts her walkabout while the narrator talks about how different things were back in 1957. Then, the crowd was segregated and the Native Americans were ignored altogether. There are several there for the queen’s arrival this time, in full dress, though it seems a tiny bit strange to me that they’d be celebrating the establishment of a colony that would lead to widespread death and repression amongst their people. It’s pretty sporting of them.
The queen gives her speech at the capitol, watched on big screens by the crowd outside. She acknowledges the friendship betweenAmericaandEngland, and that’s pretty much the extent of it. She gets back into her car and the motorcade heads forWilliamsburg.
At the hotel, she’s greeted by a band of redcoats in 18th century costume, playing historical instruments. Way to remind her of her country’s humiliating defeat,America. She passes a peaceful night and eats dinner and breakfast, so the staff’s happy.
The following morning, the queen’s heading to Jamestown, where the remains of the original colony were found in fairly recent years, so she’ll get to see some fun artifacts and such. The chief archaeologist is being pressed into service as royal guide. This is not his specialty. You know how we know that? We get to see him googling the queen the very day she’s going to arrive. Really, show? Someone made him do that, didn’t they? He wouldn’t bother to look any of this up beforehand? When he knew weeks before that she’d be there? Whatever.
The queen arrives and cute little kids hand her flowers. VP Cheney’s there as well, and he delivers a speech that commemorates the founding ofJamestownbefore they all go to the actual fort. The archaeologist shows Prince Philip bullet molds and they start talking about horses. There’s some debate as to whether or not there were horses in America before the Spanish arrived. Everyone gives up and goes with what Philip says.
Outside, the queen does a walkabout and meets some of the people who have gathered to say hi. She’s joined by her husband, and both of them take some time to make small talk with people in the crowds. They’re pretty good at it. I suck at small talk. I’d be a terrible royal. Prince Philip has to leave for another engagement, and we learn he needs to ask his wife’s permission to leave. Interesting. She gives it, of course, and off he goes.
Ahh, the diplomatic gift exchange. The queen gives the Virginians a replica of a 17th century chair. Kinda lame to get just one chair. What do you do with that, just put it on display? The queen is presented with some artisan glassware. See, that’s kind of nice. Better than a chair, in my opinion.
The entourage hits the road again and heads to their outdoor gala luncheon. They eat, everything goes well. That’s pretty much it there.
Last stop of the day is William andMaryCollege, which she also visited in 1957. She puts her student ambassadors at ease, which is sweet, and goes out to give a speech to the assembled student body.
And now for a part I really hate. The narrator tells us that the students “have clearly done their homework,” and then we get a lineup of a bunch of students proving that they don’t know jack all about the British monarchy, or the queen, or how government inBritainworks. So thanks for the snide commentary there, narrator. Also: if my kid wants to study political science, I guess I’ll tell them to steer clear of William and Mary, if these students are anything to go by, which is totally unfair, because I’m sure there were plenty of kids out there who had intelligent things to say, but we didn’t get to see them, because the editors were cherry picking once again.
The queen’s made an honorary member of the class of 2007 and is invited to ring some bell. She gets a diploma and waves to the crowd. And that’s Virginia done.