Being the Queen

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1954 portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.
1954 portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.
Photo: Getty Images


3/5 Stars


Being the Queen chronicles the life of Queen Elizabeth II, using never-before-heard interview recordings from those who know her the best.


The queen is rarely depicted in a sympathetic light. When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stepped down from royal duties this year, many criticised Her Majesty's decision and passed her off as unforgiving and cold, just as they did upon Princess Diana's death in August 1997.

As a royal reporter, it was refreshing to see Being The Queen ahead of its release – the documentary premieres on 15 November 2020 and will repeat on 17 January 2021 at 21:on National Geographic (DStv 181) – and the monarch's unbending dedication to royal duty.

The documentary, by Emmy and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Tom Jennings, follows Her Majesty from her early days as Princess Elizabeth to the moment she ascended the throne, and shows the struggles she has endured through the very many scandals that have hit the royal family.

In doing so, Jennings, in my opinion, not only takes the viewer through the tough decisions the queen has had to make during her near 70-year reign but also gives an explanation of sorts as to why the queen may seem as stoic as she does. She was suddenly thrust in this role and having seen her father, King George, also very suddenly ascend the throne, she knew all too well the responsibility of being queen.

The documentary is made up entirely of found footage and audio recordings, but Jennings manages to expertly piece everything together to tell the story of "being the queen" without saying a word – or having a narrator do it for him.

The never-before-heard interviews with a few of Her Majesty's closest confidantes, juxtaposed with never-before-seen home movies and footage, along with a score composed by Adam Lukas and produced by Hans Zimmer and Russell Emanuel, make for captivating and gripping storytelling.

I quite enjoyed the tidbits here and there. (Did you know the queen met Prince Philip when she was just 12 years old?) I was also touched by one scene in particular in which someone in the crowd handed the queen a bouquet after Diana's death. You'll recall Her Majesty was famously asked by the people to show she cared, having not immediately addressed the public upon the princess' death.

In an interview with Channel24, Tom Jennings speaks of that "needle in the haystack" instance where they managed to find an interview of a confidante of the queen to go with the photo of that moment.

"One of my editors called me in – this was pre-pandemic. He said: 'Look at this,' and he had taken that audio and put it with the picture. And it's a great moment for us when we can take two pieces of media that are recorded at very different times and put them together and have it seem as if the person actually narrated the film, even though that's not the case. That recording was made 20 years ago."

He says that moment also perfectly sums up the whole documentary – and I couldn't agree more.

"As you know, a woman gives her a bouquet of flowers and the first thing the queen says is: 'Would you like me to place them for you?' There's this notion of, 'I serve'. And the woman says: 'No ma'am, it's for you.'"

He adds: "Think of her what you will, but her mantra has always been: 'I serve.'"


Being the Queen airs Sunday, 15 November 2020 at 21:00 with a repeat on Sunday, 17 January 2021 at 21:51 on National Geographic (DStv 181).

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