Friday, May 7, 2010

Day 29: Her Royal Highnesses

Where were you on the 31st August 1997?

It was a Sunday morning, the last day of winter in Sydney, and I was living in Underwood Street, Paddington, when I trotted to the kitchen to make a cup of tea and flicked on the radio. News was breaking of an “incident” that had taken place in an underground road tunnel in Paris. Details was sketchy, but at that very moment, someone pressed the world’s pause button and kept their finger on it for two weeks.

Diana, Princess of Wales, had been in a Mercedes involved in a high speed car accident - chased by paparazzi on motorcycles - which resulted in her and others in the car dying from the injuries they sustained.

In Julie Burchill’s book Diana (Orion, 1999), amongst the many things that stuck out to me as I read was the following: “I knew that she was dead, the moment that I heard she was badly injured. She could either be radiantly alive, or she could not.” I knew that too.

The radio couldn’t suffice, was to small an appliance to contain such prodigious news, I headed to the television. It must have been around eight or nine o’clock (in the morning) when I sat down, probably in my pyjamas, and turned on the ABC, who had quickly taken a feed from the BBC in London. Surfing with the remote, from channel to channel, each television station, fell into line and took the feed from their respective northern hemisphere partners, until, within 30 to 40 minutes, across the world, we were all on the same page. I reluctantly turned the television off at about eleven o’clock...that night, not needing to change clothes to go back to bed.

We all know the extraordinary turn of events that ensued over the next fortnight and we all bore witness and were part of that extraordinary moment in time some thirteen years ago now. There was a thought I held at the time, which the passing of thirteen years hasn’t changed.

Before the inquests, the conspiracy theories and the dark web of intrigues, a great deal of blame, if not all of it, was leveled at the pap’s chasing the car on the bikes. Was this the story at the heart of the various news story strands? My train of thought went like this: the paparazzi chased Diana and Dodi Fayed, to get the pictures, to sell to the editors, of” those magazines”, that retailers sell around the world, that we all pick up and read, only to discard, creating a vacuum for more magazines, that need more pictures, that the paparazzi.....

It reminded me of that Burl Ives song, There Was An old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly. Remember the lyric? Excuse me while I paraphrase: “She swallowed the horse to catch the fly to catch the something, to get to the thing that wriggled and tiggled and wriggled inside her, perhaps she’ll die?”

The story-circle of blame that I drew was this: we were all in it together, we all had some responsibility, we could all have stood up and said “I’m Spartacus”.

When did we get the tawdry “tabloid media” that we’ve got, when did it all get so grubby? When did the unreasonable become reasonable? When did the ‘celebrated life’ stop being about a life of inspiration, example, greatness and become about “celebrity” (a byword for gauche and boorisheness)? “Celebrity” has become one of the seven contemporary deadly sins, along with “spin”, “fast food” and four others that I’m still identifying.

Ten years later and it was time to look back at the “moment in time” that story I refer to, only now, on film.

Day #29 Tip: Hunting Down Your Story
Peter Morgan’s script of The Queen, is wonderful. It is eloquent, it is both moving and witty, it is clever and it offers just one black-tipped picture postcard of “then”.

The story of The Queen takes place over the course of about twelve months, starting on Election Day, 1997, in the UK, the day that saw a very young Tony Blair and his “new” Labour Party sweep to power (funny, it’s Election Day today in the UK as I write this and it might well spell the end of that same Labour Government, thirteen years on).

At the beginning of the story, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren), has a new Prime Minister (Michael Sheen) to work with and the two of them are from opposite hemispheres of life in every which way. Not much farther into the film and “that car crash” occurs. Both the world’s of Britain (at large) and the royal family are turned topsy-turvy.

Studying the script and reviewing that film, as I had to do last year for research, I was struck by the question of what the film’s Central Plot might be?

So much of the film (the whole of Act 2 and Act 3 really) is about the response to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales by the Windsors (the royal family), the newly-elected government of the day (Tony Blair [and his wife, Cherie] in particular) and of course, the hoi polloi; I always used to think the “hoi polloi” were the aristocracy (“posh people” my Nan would call them) when in fact it’s the likes of you and me, “the common people”. At least, me, anyway.

But there is a clue to what the Central Plot is about and it lies in the title. The movie, is after all, called The Queen, not “the people”, not “the prime minister”, not “the late princess” but The Queen. Just as Hamlet is called Hamlet and Ghandi is called Ghandi.

The Central Plot of The Queen is about HRH Elizabeth II and explores her place, position and relatedness to her people, to her parliament and arguably, to herself. Across the length and breath of this film, up and down the ladies’ chambers, the question that the Protagonist (the Queen) faces, is one of “am I relevant?”.

Are their two protagonists in this story? Does the Tony Blair character go through deep and fundamental change over the arc of this story? Maybe. Perhaps he does become more of a monarchist than he was at the outset and has an increased respect for his Head of State? But, HRH, definitely goes through a profound shift in not only the way that she and others see her and her role, but, most importantly, it’s within herself that her character really changes, at a level of great depth. The externals might remain the same, but within, tectonic plates of her psyche have shifted, forever. That change begins, those wagons get rollin', when Tony Blair and all that he represents, comes to power; thit is the Inciting Incident of this film, that kicks off the Central Plot. That plot is then forged in the fires of the tragic events of days that followed 31st August 1997.

Those were profound days in all our lives, were they not?

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