BASICALLY…: A look at the 70-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
As is the case with every major Jubilee, the stores are lined with endless commemorative souvenirs with the faces of Queen Elizabeth II and other royal family members plastered all over them, from special magazines to kitchen towels to biscuit tins. It’s all to celebrate the imminent Platinum Jubilee, marking an unprecedented 70-year reign of the 96-year-old monarch, the uniqueness of which has caused the interest for such souvenirs to skyrocket. The very special occasion has also prompted the commissioning of Elizabeth: A Portrait in Parts, a new theatrical documentary designed to capture some of the most important moments during Elizabeth’s rule, as overseen by director Roger Mitchell (whose passing last year sadly makes this, after The Duke from earlier this year, his final feature film).
The movie is very much the filmic equivalent of a commemorative souvenir, something that probably has more value in the moment than in the long term, but should satisfy anyone looking for a collection of royal moments scrapbooked together in one place. Just don’t expect it to be much of an actual movie, which is sad considering both the subject and the untimely passing of its director.
Elizabeth: A Portrait in Parts is entirely made up of archived footage of the Queen at numerous stages in her life and reign, from old footage of her as a young Princess, to more recent footage where she and fellow nonagenarian Sir David Attenborough are walking together in a garden. It is a random assortment of such clips, very loosely strung together by chapter titles outlining certain themes such as royal engagements and Elizabeth’s lifelong marriage to the now-deceased Prince Philip. Unlike, say, the works of documentary filmmaker Asif Kapadia, who at least accompanies his dominant archive footage with some kind of narrative force, this film provides no such narration to provide chronological cohesion, or even context to what we are seeing; it expects the viewer to already know every single event in Elizabeth’s life beforehand, which in fairness is hard to avoid given her importance as a public figure, but even still some kind of accompanying structure could have helped fill in some of the holes on display here.
The movie is, basically, a YouTube compilation video stretched into a feature-length film; granted, a competently put-together one by editor Joanna Crickmay, who previously worked with Michell on his only other feature documentary Nothing Like a Dame. The editor is even credited before the late director in the ending credits, which makes sense given that this is much more of an editing showcase than a directorial one, as Crickmay does make a strong effort to inject some kind of flow into the free-form collection of royal clips she has been given to work with. She even manages to spice up the soundtrack with some rather odd left-field music choices; who’d have thought we’d ever see old black-and-white footage of Queen Elizabeth II set to Stormzy? Or a tour of Buckingham Palace and some of the other royal getaways with “Our House” by Madness playing alongside it? Crickmay makes both things a bizarre reality here, in just some of the ways she spices up an otherwise straightforward editing assignment.
The scattershot nature of the order of clips, as well as their familiarity within public consciousness (including numerous royal processions, weddings, and the odd piece of home footage), lends the movie a very safe tone, inoffensive to a fault and with hardly a negative thing to say about its central subject. Sure, there is a section of this movie simply titled “Horibilis” which goes over many of her reign’s lowest moments, from the fire at Balmoral to the death of Princess Diana (even clips of Prince Andrew’s now-infamous recent TV interview are shown), but it’s more of an obligatory inclusion, designed to balance out the overly celebratory nature of the film, to a point where it comes dangerously close to being full-on propaganda. Also noticeable are the omissions of certain important figures and milestones; neither William nor Harry are featured in substantial form (the latter especially, being reduced to a newspaper headline after his Oprah interview with his spouse Meghan Markle), and despite it being more than a year since Prince Philip’s passing his death isn’t acknowledged at all, even in the dedicated section about his and Elizabeth’s marriage. It’s not as though Michell died before either of these things happened (he passed five months after Philip), so the director’s omission feels substantially odd for something designed to capture all the significant parts of the Queen’s life.
While it doesn’t really work as a movie, and is probably best viewed at home rather than in the cinema, Elizabeth: A Portrait in Parts offers a decently put-together assortment of Queen Elizabeth II’s life and rule – but beyond that, it’s as much a decorative souvenir as the biscuit tins on sale at WH Smith.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Elizabeth: A Portrait in Parts is a purely commemorative celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s life and reign, offering little more than a decently edited showcase of barely-structured clips with no narrative cohesion, making it a slight disappointment especially given the passing of its director Roger Michell.