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Film Review: Elizabeth: A Portrait in Parts

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Director: Roger Michell

Trying to capture the essence of Elizabeth II in just 90-minutes seems a near impossible task and with Peter Morgan hardly closer to unravelling the mysterious allure of our national figurehead four season of The Crown later, Roger Michell’s final film has the odds stacked against it. Yet, in taking a mind map approach to the woman, the institution and the symbol, Michell gets somewhere close to this familiar yet fascinating monarch.

Arguing that Queen Elizabeth II is the most famous woman who has ever lived, her image adorning everything from currency to tea towels to posters worldwide for now 70 years, Elizabeth: A Portrait in Parts is a kaleidoscopic view of her life and reign, splicing archival material from filmed news footage, documentaries and private moments captured by cameras divided into chapters that consider the highs and lows as well as the ongoing ceremonial duty of the Queen.

The very first Elizabeth knew a thing or two about using portraiture to reinforce the image of herself and the legitimate stability she brought to the throne, her commissioned paintings loaded with symbolism and meaning for her courtiers and subjects. Michell takes the same approach here but using twentieth and twenty-first century technology to explore the image that the Queen has presented to the world, how that has changed and questioning how the public invest and project onto the idea of a royal family that proves revealing on multiple levels.

Just trying to pin-point a single characteristic of the Queen proves impossible so Michell mixes her love of horseracing with her devotion to the Commonwealth, family woes with Jubilee celebrations, millions of handshakes that she has given from the accession of her father when she was a princess to the infinite visits, tours and factory delegations she has led. Somehow, Michell captures the breadth of a monarch at the centre of public life and her role as all things to all people.

If Elizabeth: A Portrait in Parts has a fault it is scant reflection of the changing socio-political context during the long reign and while Michell retains mobs, protests and civil disruption within the completed film, the role of the monarch and this Queen’s personality in relation to these changes remains out of reach. Likewise, blots on the life of the Royal Family are referenced – divorce, the death of Diana, the recent scandal with Prince Andrew and the departure of Harry and Meghan, although not one single clip of the latter appears in the whole film – these issues feel underplayed in what is on the whole a celebratory film.

Released to coincide with the Jubilee of the world’s longest resigning royal, Michell’s documentary does well to capture the spirit and breadth of (whatever your political persuasion), an astonishing 70 years of change through which the Queen has been almost the only constant. After 96 years, Elizabeth: A Portrait in Parts leaves you to wonder, what will the world be without her.

Elizabeth: A Portrait in Parts is released in cinemas from 27 May and on Prime Video on 1 June.

 

The Reviews Hub Score:

A Mind map approach

The Reviews Hub - Film

The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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