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Tuesday, 26 January 2021

The Windsors, The Crown, Real Life


I resisted for  a while but finally we succumbed to the Crown an its curious mix of royalty, politics, snobbery, and denied love. The highpoints were the first two series when Claire Foy (Stockport's finest, along with Phil Foden and Fred Perry) brought a new life to the young Elizabeth, where the weight of duty and a deeper, hugely conservative gly reactionary state lay just beneath the surface. Claire Foy and her micro-expressive face could handle that very easily in a way that made her Elizabeth a character in her own right rather than a series of shoulder-slumping gestural tics that emerged later in the sequence of series. 

After the cast turned over, that underlying weight (which defines England in particular) dissipated and the whole series became frothy, lacking emotional weight, missing huge chunks of the essential trauma of being English. The acting became more of a pastiche of head angles, clasped hands, and helmet hairdos compared to the brilliance of Claire Foy, and the pastiche merged with memories of real events, with other depictions of royalty (and for all my moaning, the Crown is far superior to any other recent depictions of Charles, Diana, the Queen etc) and for a misty shared knowledge.

I began to get confused by all these depictions, especially when I started to throw the comedy version of the contemporary royal family (the Windsors) into the mix. I loved the Windsors, and my memories of  the bumbling Charles clashed with the rather limp version of the Crown, and the quite despondent, lumpen version of reality, especially his younger reality. He got let off the hook in the Crown. So I started operating in some weird twilight zone of the multiple depictions of the royals - the Windsors, the Crown, the newspaper and tv versions I call the real version, and the deep state reality. In my mind, I think I settled on the Windsors because they are less idealised than the Crown, did I just write that. I'm obviously not giving this much thought. That is what a blog is for.

The Crown vision of Camilla was a disappointment. She started off as a female space devoid of personality. I far preferred the sinister, conniving version of the Windsors, always plotting to have somebody put away so she can finally be queen, at last. In the Crown, there is a veneer of competition and disappointment in access to the succession, in the Windsors it is there, as a caricature, in full view. It defines Camilla. As for the real version of Camilla, I have no idea, I google Charles and Diana and see pictures of them looking happy together and I end up believing they were happy together - and then start linking that to the abdication, loveless marriages and forced separations, Princess Margaret, and Charles and Diana - so it's all mixed up together and becomes a kind of soap opera where characters and institutions become defined on strictly human and emotional terms. Which is fine for soap operas, but ends up creating a distorted and sympathetic view of institutions that are elitist, classist, and are the acceptable face of the English class system and all that falls under it.

As for the other characters, in the Windsors, Ann is a spectral figure who floats through hallways, and appears out of nowhere with an unkind word and a piece of itchy tweed always at hand. I'll just stay with that version...

The Queen doesn't appear in the Windsors, and nor does Prince Philip, but his curses do down the phone. So I'll stick with that. 

That's William and Kate on the Windsors at top, just William on the Crown with Charles and Diana, and in a press image with the same. It's getting dull now.

And that's Harry with Kate's sister whose name I forget. Harry is thick as shit and and Kate's sister wants to marry him so she can be a princess like her sister. 

And that's Andrew on the Windsors, then Andrew on the Crown, then Andrew in real life. Strangely, Andrew from the Crown is far worse than Andrew on the Windsors. Andrew in real life, one gets the feeling, is an absolute piece of shit...

Last of all, that's Fergie on the Windsors who is jolly hockeysticks skint, and always after a free meal. The corruption is worn lightly. There she is above on the Crown. Sadly her two daughters (Eugenie and, er, the other one - best known for wearing a hat) who are fantastic on the Windsors, are not important or relevant enough to be on the Crown.

Well, I thought I would have something more to say on all of that, but really I don't.  What is interesting is the way the different stories mix with the version of reality we see in the media, with our knowledge and experience of the British class system, of land ownership, of those who uphold it starting at the top, and with the mythologies that distract us all from the grim and quite brutal reality of the monarchy, and the layers upon which it rests. And the Crown ultimately is part of that mythology. It is exceedingly kind (and I haven't even mentioned the Queen Mother or Mountbatten or Thatcher god help us).

The Crown is a case study in that mix of the fictional and the real - through how the script ties in with real events, with remembered events, through the myths created and perpetuated by the media, and through earlier representations and idealisations of the Royal Family. There is the overlap with politics and prime-ministers, and the way in which original archive footage is used to show crowds, and then recreated with present day actors inserted, the images and film manipulated to appear as though it is in 1950s newsreel or newsprint. 

The ultimate interplay between the real, the fictional, the physical, the iconic, comes when the character Queen transitions from young to old, when Olivia Colman is introduced as the older replacement for the younger version played by Claire Foy. 

And the transition happens in stamp form. They must have been delighted with themselves when they thought that one up. 

The picture's not accurate though. The original stamp portrait on the right was in 3/4 profile and made by Dorothy Wilding (who doesn't feature in the Crown, though Cecil Beaton and Tony Armstrong-Jones do). It was printed 220 billion times so may be the most printed image of all time (but for images printed for photographic as opposed to other functional purposes, perhaps that's the Chairman Mao poster which was printed a few billion times).

Image by Dorothy Wilding, 1952

Coronation portrait by Dorothy Wilding, 1952

Image by John Hedgecoe, 1966

This image by John Hedgecoe was used as the basis for the plaster cast created by Arnold Machin which was then used for the definitive stamps (and coins) featured below. Hedgecoe got the credit after a court case in which the Royal Mail wrongly claimed the cast was based on a Snowdon image.

Two versions of the Machin plaster cast

And here are some more photographs on stamps which will resonate with viewers of the Crown, the one with Nelson Mandela in particular.

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