My first introduction to royalty was in The Great Mouse Detective. The evil Professor Rattigan wants to take over the empire on the night of the Diamond Jubilee, celebrating Victoria’s sixty years on the throne. Fortunately, Basil (a mouse version of Sherlock Holmes) rescues her just in time. I was just a little girl the first time I saw it, but it left an impression on me.
This past weekend, her great, great granddaughter Elizabeth II celebrated her Diamond Jubilee. She is one of the few remaining individuals who lived through incredible world history. She survived the Blitz, because her mother would not send her and her sister Margaret out of England without going with them, but refused to leave her husband, who refused to leave Britain. Like her great, great grandmother, she was young when she came to the throne, and no one expected her to be the successor. They have much in common, from their stance on morality to their traditional ideas of the monarchy and forms of government. Her first Prime Minister was the cigar-chewing, cat-loving Winston Churchill. Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Popes have come and gone… Elizabeth has remained.
Since I am not in Britain, and cannot join in on the fun, I did the only thing a good little American girl can do to celebrate with her… first, I left her a congratulatory note on the official website, then I ordered a bunch of biographies about her from the library, and finally I sat down to revisit one of my favorite films, The Queen. Watching it once again, I was struck by how little the writers understand her. To claim otherwise seems like arrogance, but I can sort of understand her, in part because one of my friends is also an ISTJ personality type.
ISTJ’s are very traditional, super-dependable (you can count on them, even if the world implodes), sincere, brutally honest, and private. Anything that departs from the expected pattern of behavior of those around them catches them off guard. The Queen tries its best to paint Elizabeth in a cold light, along with the entire royal family, showing us flashes of her emotions along the way. And for more emotional personality types, it may even work, since there will be moments where you ask, “Why aren’t they more upset about this?” When the news announces Diana’s death, Elizabeth starts deflecting Charles’ accusations that she does not care and looking after the emotional well-being of her grandchildren. Her sister complains that Diana is more trouble dead than alive. And Elizabeth’s husband Philip immediately involves the boys in “stalking” (hunting) a beautiful stag on the property.
To many people, this is cold behavior. It isn’t. It is how the ISTJ copes: duty first. Keep your feelings hidden, attend to others and deal with your emotions in private. Distract the children. Give them occupation so they don’t descend into utter despair. Her husband understands her, but it is apparent that Charles doesn’t. In one scene, he remarks that Diana was a wonderful mother, so warm and comforting. There is an intentional barb in his comment. You can almost see the wheels turning in her head. So Diana was the wonderful mother, was she? The woman who dragged his affair into the public view, who made a mockery of the monarchy, who scandalized them with her public affairs and other behavior… all forgiven, because she was “warm” to her children? I don’t blame her for being insulted.
Much of the film revolves around what might be considered Elizabeth-bashing until we reach the point where Tony Blair has had enough, and voices the reality: all things considering, she is doing rather well. She is being bullied by everyone into mourning the loss of a woman that did what Elizabeth considers to be unpardonable – air private matters in the public, with a directly negative impact on her family. Or rather, as he puts it, “[Diana] has spent the last several years seemingly devoted to destroying everything [Elizabeth] holds dear!”
Most movies over-explain matters through needless exposition in the assumption that the audience is stupid. The Queen for the most part avoids that temptation. Yes, there is the obligatory one or two references for the uneducated masses. “Are you sure about the car, Ma’am?” “Yes, remember, I was a mechanic in the war.” But for the most part, it is understated elegance that requires you to do the thinking, the pondering, to reach your own conclusions about the royal family and how that week was handled. The greatest enigma is the stag.
In the story, the boys stalk a beautiful stag for weeks, only to have it wander onto the neighboring property and be shot by an incompetent banker from London. He misses the kill but wounds it, and his companions have to follow it for miles to bring it down. This greatly upsets Elizabeth. Clearly, the director meant it as a visual interpretation of Diana: something beautiful the royal family tried to possess, but in the end lost to the devastating, cruel effects of the press. Yet, that is simply one interpretation. The other is that the stag is England, and in it, Elizabeth sees what is happening to the monarchy, to her.
Just as Elizabeth could not understand the erratic behavior of the public that week, the public could not understand her need to deal with it in private. She was bullied into giving in just to appease them. Unsurprisingly, she has my empathy much more than the crowds. One of my favorite moments in the film is when she steps outside the gates of Buckingham Palace to read the cards left on the flowers heaped up against the gates. Many of them are cruel toward her and the royal family, stating things like “they didn’t deserve you, Diana.” You can see the hurt in her face, though she tries to hide it. But then she approaches the crowd and a little girl offers her some flowers, not for Diana, but for her. One person understands, and still loves her.
Coming to understand someone so different from you is hard. I spent years under the mistaken belief that my grandmother was cold, because I could not emotionally connect to her. I was searching for something she was incapable of, based on a model of other grandmothers, much as Charles wanted more from Elizabeth than she could give to him. My grandmother wasn’t cold; she was just an introverted personality, self-contained, very private about her emotions and uncomfortable with sharing them. She showed me love in her actions, rather than in endless hugs and affirmation. I never felt as if I truly got close to her, but some years before her death she told my aunt, “Charity is the only one who understands me.”
Don’t assume that because someone in your life isn’t like you, that they don’t love you. It is far from the truth. Learn to understand them, and enrich both your lives.