Monday, January 14, 2013
A Royal Feast
On the surface John Curtin's latest documentary on the Royal family, Serving the Royals, plays nicely as a bright splash of naughty tales told out of school.
But this is more than a scissors and paste pastiche of some of the scandals which have played the House of Windsor in recent years.
Already the Montreal based Curtin has become a sort of unofficial biographer of what ails the monarchy in two previous TV outings: After Elizabeth II: Monarchy In Peril (2010) and Chasing The Royals: The Media & The Monarchy (2011).
But Curtin's thesis remains constant --either the royals must change and rapidly or they risk becoming obsolete.
This time out he looks at the servants to Queen Elizabeth and her troubled children all of whom are now deep in middle age.
And he starts off by showing that when it comes to social behavior this brood are rather like the toffs in Downton Abbey.
Of course I knew the Queen had scores of attendants at her beck and call but I wasn't aware the staff was anywhere near 1,200.
They are poorly paid and forced to sign confidentiality agreements. One who did not was the Queen's original
They are called upon to perform such tasks as drawing her bath every morning --the water must be tepid and there's even a temperature reading --and the water must be exactly seven inches.
Thankfully Queen is relatively civil to her servants. One remembered waking Prince Andrew up at the required time and being told to "Fuck off!".
When Prince Charles mistakenly tossed a letter into the waste basket he ordered a lackey to come over and fetch it for him.
That excess of servants has resulted in offspring who are to the Palace born and seemingly indolent about every detail of real life. There's a telling news shot of Charles kidding son Harry for polishing his own boots.
The docu really works because Curtin has gotten Paul Burrell to sit down and chat about his years with the Queen followed by years as personal assistant to Princess Diana..
He talks about arranging assignations for Diana and having her driven home discreetly.
There was a stand off with the family after Diana's tragic death that resulted in a trial called off when the Queen suddenly remembered he had told her he had been given some of Diana's possessions for safe keeping.
The sad story of the Queen Mother's head butler William Talon is also told. He covered up for the old queen for decades but when he allowed an ailing Princess Margaret to make an appearance in public shortly before her death he incurred the wrath of Elizabeth and was promptly retired.
What is most interesting is the struggle of the latest royal couple, William and Kate to maintain a near normal existence. In Wales they have a small house and just one housekeeper.
As they move into their own spacious country house all that must certainly change. Kate cannot do the washing up and increase her royal appearances but William is determined to break free from past traditions.
Or will they wind up like the Dutch royals pedaling around on bikes to show they're just plain folks?
SERVING THE ROYALS PREMIERES ON CBC-TV'S DOC ZONE THURSDAY JANUARY 17 AT 9 P.M.
MY RATING: ***1/2.