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An Inside Look at the British Royal Family With 'Queen of the World'
October 1, 2018  | By David Hinckley

The new documentary Queen of the World should separate casual from hard-core devotees of the British royal family.

Queen of the World, a production of Britain’s ITV network, premieres on this side of the pond on HBO, Monday at 8 p.m. ET.

It’s billed as the latest inside look at the Royal Family, enhanced by vintage film said to come from the family’s private library.

If so, let’s bet Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip don’t spend a lot of time rewatching it, because it’s indistinguishable from a million feet of film shot by regular news organizations over Elizabeth’s impressive 65-year reign.

The greater point of the documentary is, frankly, a bit more challenging to determine. It seems largely an homage to Elizabeth and her family, portraying them all – from Elizabeth to Prince Charles, Princes William and Harry, and Harry’s new American actress bride, Meghan Markle – as charming, warm, graceful and beloved ambassadors for a better world.

The nominal focus seems to be on Elizabeth’s role as leader not just of Great Britain itself, but the British Commonwealth, a group of 53 nations whose shared roots lie primarily in having once been British colonies.

The Commonwealth grew from a handful of nations to its current size under Elizabeth and she is given much of the credit for that expansion. Not by coincidence, the documentary notes, one of her first acts as queen was to tour the globe, including British colonies and former colonies.

This gesture of friendship carried an implicit call for understanding and cooperation, an admirable notion that the documentary suggests has led over the years to the kind of respect and affection that has today made Elizabeth into, yes, Queen of the World.

More than a dozen interview subjects here enthusiastically agree. There are brief interviews with members of the Royal Family, including Charles, slightly longer interviews with persons involved in Elizabeth’s travels, and extensive segments on people from countries like Anguilla and Sierra Leone who have recently worked at Buckingham Palace and met the queen.

It’s all very warm-hearted, and no one can find fault with the Royal Family’s work for greater international harmony. Fostering better relationships among nations is an admirable part of Queen Elizabeth’s legacy.

Two notable elements are absent, however, from Queen of the World.

The first is even a rudimentary acknowledgement of the history of the British Empire.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the Empire was paternal at best and just as often brutal and oppressive. Far too often it enriched Britain at the expense of “colonial peoples,” from the Americas to India and Africa. Many countries had to struggle for years, at great cost, to liberate themselves.

If the Commonwealth is all goodwill and fancy dinners today, that’s fine. It’s worth remembering that a whole lot of ancestors in Commonwealth countries found British kings and queens far less benevolent, and it’s a safe bet that many folks living in those countries today still struggle with the aftereffects.

The second absent point is a focus. Beyond portraying the international doings of the Queen and her family as almost saintly, it’s unclear what, if anything, Queen of the World is trying to say.

We have footage of Elizabeth on exotic islands. We have Meghan Markle explaining in great detail how her wedding veil embroidery includes flowers from each of the 53 Commonwealth countries.

Maybe it’s a test. When people say they find everything about British royalty fascinating, and that includes all of this, they are speaking the truth.

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