Elizabeth: A Portrait in Part(s) – movie review

The final film from director Roger Michell (whose drama The Duke is currently screening in cinemas), Elizabeth: A Portrait in Part(s) is a documentary about Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning British monarch. The documentary has been released to coincide with her platinum jubilee. While this may not be the definitive portrait of Queen Elizabeth II it will please monarchists as it gives us a glimpse into her personality.

Michell and his team have sifted through hours of archival and news reel footage to arrive at this rather brisk 90 minute final cut. The wealth of footage here has been culled from the Royal Archives as well as the archives of several television stations around the world, and a lot of it has never been seen before. It has all been loosely assembled into a jumble of images, deftly edited together and shaped by Joanna Crickmay, who also edited Michell’s 2018 documentary Tea With The Dames.

Although it doesn’t follow a chronological structure, the wealth of footage covers her life, and it spans her 70 year reign from childhood as a young princess in waiting through to the present day. It shows how she grew into her role. There is no voice over narration to provide context for the images though; rather the documentary relies on the images to tell the story and the film is impressionistic in style and ultimately lacks substance. The footage has been assembled under random chapter headings like “Let Me Entertain You”, “Ma’am” and even “Horribilis”, which covers the so-called “annus Horribilis” in which a series of misfortunes dogged the royal family. This includes the public backlash against the royal family for their presumed lack of sympathy in the wake of Diana’s death in the car crash in the Paris tunnel.

The chosen footage reveals her sense of humour and her sense of occasion, and it also shows her more spontaneous nature in scenes where she attends a day at the races to cheer her horses on. And there are any number of celebrities glimpsed throughout the film, from those attending Royal Command performances to other famous people from the past 70 years. Paul McCartney gushes over her, while Dawn French relates an amusing anecdote from meeting the Queen at a Royal Command Performance.

The documentary looks at the changing face of Britain during Elizabeth’s impressive 70 year reign, from the shrinking of the Empire to the strengthening of the ties of Commonwealth, the growth of national socialist movements in the face of rising immigration, the succession of Prime Ministers who served under her from Churchill to Boris Johnson, and we get lots of snippets from her various tours as head of the Commonwealth.

Michell has also infused the material with a slightly irreverent and whimsical edge. Michell has also incorporated several snippets from contemporary tv programs and films about the royal family, especially The Crown and the feature film The Queen that show the public is still fascinated by all things royal. It is all set to a soundtrack that includes The Beatles, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Nat King Cole, Moby, Robbie Williams and George Fenton.

Greg King

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