Monday, 9 January 2017

A Realist on 'The Crown'

The Crown, Series 1 – irresistible, binge-inducing TV. Full marks are due to the writer, Peter Morgan, for the convincing intellectual component and brilliant dialogue in this gripping series on Netflix, covering the young Queen Elizabeth’s life. Although it is superbly cast, memorably acted, lavishly set and beautifully filmed, his intelligent script made the series.

Its ten episodes have reignited my enormous respect for the Queen. The burden laid on a young woman’s shoulders when the English crown landed on her head was heavy. The way she handled her sudden responsibilities was understandably hesitant at first, but always admirable. The show has generated my enormous sympathy too, for the marital pressure placed on the Queen and her husband when she inherited the monarchy in her early days as a wife and mother. Now that I better understand the indignities suffered by Prince Phillip, he has gone up in my estimation as the loyal supporter of his wife in her role for more than six decades, despite his own high-testosterone nature. In a world obsessed with self-gratification and ‘rights’ rather than responsibilities, The Crown should be mandatory viewing for today’s young people.

Some of my own earliest memories are of the Queen. Perhaps it’s no wonder, as she was the spur for the one-and-only excursion ever organised by my primary school. That was on a hot summer’s day in 1954, when we lined up behind barricades at North Sydney Oval, waving our paper flags. That fleeting  glimpse of the Queen is recalled by Miles Farwell who was present on that day. That 1954 day, imprinted on my memory, came to life again in 1981 when Prince Charles' engagement to Diana Spencer was announced. Because I happened to be working in London at the time, I took my own young daughter to stand with the crowd outside the gates of Buckingham Palace, as a once-in-a-lifetime experience which she still recalls. (The two of us waved no flags, though.)

I remember, too, 5th class in Sydney in 1956, when we kids fearfully looked out the windows of our classroom, waiting for the bombs to start dropping on us, as the Suez crisis took over the news of the day. And I remember the front page stories and newsreel items at the local flicks about poor Princess Margaret and her ill-fated romance with Peter Townsend. After watching The Crown, the Church of England into which I was baptised and later confirmed has lost even more of my once-held affection.

True, there have been moments in the Queen’s long reign when she has looked stern, disapproving and unsmiling in public and she has not been my favourite human being – but never have I doubted the magnificence of her achievement as the archetype of duty, often performed under fire but always with steadfastness, grace and total discretion. This series provides everyone with a useful role model for qualities of character which seem increasingly rare in today’s world.

The contrast with her dutiful approach to the job, no matter the personal price she paid, compared vividly with her uncle David's preference for his personal life with Wallis Simpson. Mind you, when you think about the lack of emotional warmth given to him by his parents it's no wonder he tried to repair the damage of his childhood by seeking love in his adult life, paying the price of a lifelong virtual exile from his homeland and a hankering for his former, brief role as King Edward VIII. The Queen benefitted in childhood from a happy family life with her own parents and had a strong role model, her father, to help her chart her own course as monarch although it came much earlier than anyone expected.

As an Australian, I’ve tended to sit on the fence about the monarchy. It's true, like millions in every country around the world, I love to watch the Royal 'show', all those televised royal spectacles demonstrating how well the British do 'pomp and circumstance'. That does not make me a Royalist. Despite my statements in earlier paragraphs, I don’t describe myself as a 'Monarchist'. I recognise that it is an anachronism to have an English person living on the other side of the world as our official head of state, albeit represented in Australia by an Australian Governor-General.

Yet I don’t describe myself as a 'Republican' either.

I’m a Realist. I simply don’t want to rock the boat of my country’s current constitutional status as I don’t trust the proponents who are keen to change it. The previous cheer-leader Malcolm Turnbull has proved he lacks integrity as our national leader. Current champion of the cause, Peter Fitzsimons of red-bandana fame, lacks intellectual status, gravitas and dignity. Australian Republicans seem unable to give us examples of successful republics overseas, and unable to develop a clearly-articulated template which is well-enough considered and formulated that it can be supported by both sides of politics and the general community.

Even if such a template could be agreed, in our current barren and highly-unstable political climate I don’t trust any government-appointed committee which might be charged with suggesting candidates for the job as an Australian head of state. Who would they pick? Who understands the role and is big enough to perform it? In a world ruled by ‘celebrity’, money and the peddling of power and influence, do we even have a suitable pool of contenders? Other than Dame Marie Bashir who is now too old for the job, I cannot think of anyone in Australian public life who comes near the Queen’s example as a role model and who enjoys the respect and genuine affection of a wide cross-section of the public.

Until such a person can be identified, I prefer the status quo and I don’t mind if it continues through the lives of my grandchildren. Lack of trust is my core problem. Should Prince Charles become our next official head of state when the Queen eventually dies, and then Prince William, and perhaps even Prince George, at least I can trust that they will have been well-trained for the job. My admiration for the Queen has been enhanced by her willingness to learn from her own early married life: she seems to be granting 'space' from many official duties so that her eventual successor, Prince William, can develop strong emotional links with his wife and children while they are young, to help them withstand the pressures which will come later in their lives.

This post began with a tribute to a writer, Peter Morgan, and reminds me of several clichés - that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ and the right words can ‘move mountains’. Thank you, Peter Morgan, for presenting a story which made me think about something important and helped me to formulate my own views. The right words can be crucial in shaping community views.