The BBC’s The Unseen Queen is an utter revelation. Alongside some sweet home video footage it’s clearly shown that Her Maj’s true vocation in life is the arena of self-help.
The Queen herself narrates a beautifully curated montage of clips from her life. It’s cleverly designed to show the family aspect behind the scenes of the big days of her life – which, coincidentally, happen to be some of the big days of all our lives. Her father King George VI’s coronation, her engagement to Prince Philip, some Royal tours and even some Royal Wedding “extra” footage from her own nuptials.
But its subtle beauty comes is in its soporific quality, bordering on therapy. In this 75-minute long rehash of things we’ve seen and sort-of-heard before, the actual Queen walks us through the emotional scale of grief, of joy and of love.
We are not offered a private poke around in the Queen’s feelings but we are offered her years of recollections. “Change is a constant,” and, “You cannot regret the passing of time,” she counsels. Prime Ministers have often described their sessions with her as therapy. I wonder if her Royal account would permit the tweeting of daily mantras as a public service?
It’s touching to know that she thinks so deeply, having lived through 70 years of a rapidly changing society, through wars and loss and innovation. We are used to gushing nonsense from Peleton instructors, and worthy but meaningless tributes from anyone with a smartphone and an emotion. She manages to always find the right words, each one laced with meaning. Much of her musings sound liturgical, painfully considered yet natural.
We forget that none of us knew that she would be such a successful monarch. With hindsight, it’s easy to say she’s great now. When she first came to the throne what was she offering? By her own admission, she was not about to throw herself on a battlefield. But her heart, as she says, was that she had to share. The bond of family and sense of duty is often regurgitated to offer an answer, but you can hear it is a deeply held view providing perhaps a little fortitude to us all.
It must be tough not only to have to live up to one’s contemporaries but the pressure of comparison to kings and queens of history, trying to bring something new and keep the show on the road. You have to be very “together” as a person to cope for this long and this well in the glare of the public eye. From the evidence of The Unseen Queen, it’s a reliance on the simple things: faith and family; living for others’ sake.
In the formative years of her reign, she was a working mother, trying to manage her marriage and her kids. She can relate to the lives of most of us just trying to do our best. There is a captive market ready and waiting to hear what she has to say on how to cope through life’s stresses and challenges.
She even alluded to the absolute unthinkable, a time when she is no longer here. Even this, she tackled with philosophical deftness through delicate mentions of the “future” and how we live our lives for the young. Quotes from her father and grandfather were peppered throughout to remind us that life goes on and there is a constancy to her role.
Of course, the carefully chosen footage of the Queen’s 70 years is designed to make us feel patriotic, to glory in the length of her reign. But it tells us something so much more about the person who has been the symbol of national life. She has spent her working days giving away so little so the whole world can project their hopes and fears and dreams onto her.