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'Queen & Country': A Nice Balance of Clarity and Majesty
June 29, 2012  | By Tom Brinkmoeller

An American cynic might compare watching PBS's upcoming four-part Queen & Country to reading the owner's manual for the Bentley you don't own and wouldn't choose to buy if you could. America has no monarchy, and it would be hard to find many Americans who would want a form of government so costly and ostentatious.

Though there's no interest on this side of the ocean in participating, we love to watch from an arm's length. When something of note involves British royalty — a birth, a death, a wedding, an anniversary or a controversy — many Americans are all over the story. That's when newspapers and networks try to put it all into perspective for us with a 40-inch story or a four-minute report.

But the monarchy's deep history and complexity make such summaries incomplete and often misleading and confusing. In this four-hour British project — airing July 1, 8, 15 and 22 at 8 p.m. ET (check local listings) — that was produced for television audiences here and there, there's time for background and depth that reportedly didn't strike the royal subjects as old news.

"The beauty of this is, there is a lot of information (in the series) that is not really known here or in the UK," said Julie Anderson, executive producer for New York's WNET, which partnered with the English production company to produce the series.

As a result, it will, for most Americans, be an enjoyable and enlightening investment of time that will make it easier to understand the next Royal news story. Because it's a fair bet many in the viewing audience will outlive the 86-year-old Queen Elizabeth II, understanding the succession and all the ceremony that accompanies it will make more sense. Better than that, the very private and tradition-heavy royalty system puts on a human face in this series unlike few that we've seen here.

British television journalist Trevor McDonald hosts and co-wrote the series. His accent may be very British, but his style is far from stuffy. The July 1 installment takes a look at the way the monarchy and London are tightly linked to the point that neither would seem to be able to be the same without the other. (The program mentions that Prince Charles has mentioned an inclination to move the center away from London, should he become king, and how many in the country would consider that move ill-advised and destructive to tradition.)

That geographic link makes more sense once modern history is reviewed and Londoners talk about its importance. Though Queen Elizabeth chooses to keep the crown based in London, she travels within the British Isles regularly.

The second installment traces some of those visits and watches as she makes official trips to Liverpool and to Scotland. The hour makes clear the love much of Britain has for its crowned head, how a royal visit is an occasion of major importance. The reactions of those she visits better explain the reasons for a devotion that seems inexplicable to Americans who regularly choose, then reject, their leaders.

The third and fourth installments, which were not available for preview, detail properties and possessions of the Queen and her visits over her 60-year reign to other Commonwealth countries.
Part Four includes a return trip to Australia, where Elizabeth was visiting in 1956 when she learned her father, King George, had died. WNET's Anderson said the program includes interviews with two men who watched as boys when she made that first visit. The show's producers also found a woman who was an attendant on her flight back to England for the funeral and coronation. The former stewardess shares her memories of that historic flight.

Spread out as it is over four weeks, and aided in accessibility by the abundance of home DVRs, Queen & Country is an important and engaging TV event many will find to be an easy-to-watch investment.

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