Understanding the Queen

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.

4 Replies to “Understanding the Queen”

  1. As a Brit I’ve been having Jubilee fun all weekend, and it’s been interesting to see the different reactions of everybody (including the Queen) to the celebrations. I know what you mean about her being almost bullied into showing emotion. There was a pageant on the Thames of over 1000 boats (one of them containing a close friend of mine) with the royal barge up the front. The Queen and family were standing on deck waving, and the Queen had on her usual thoughtful, considering expression that gives you the impression she’s watching everything very closely but not what her opinion of it is. My housemate remarked that she wasn’t smiling very much, and so can’t have been enjoying it or enthusiastic at all, and I had to point out to them that although Her Majesty may not have been beaming like a Cheshire cat for the past three hours, seats were provided for her and Prince Philip, who are in their 80s and 90s, but neither of them have sat down once. Instead they’ve been moving about the deck, speaking to people and looking at things. That shows enthusiasm just as much as a smile. For all our complaining, Britain is stubbornly and fiercely proud of it’d heritage, and when we choose to show an opinion we do it very vocally, but it’s important for us to remember that how a nation expresses itself is very different from how a leader expresses themselves, particularly when they’re in a position of constant scrutiny like the Queen.

    You may or may not know that Prince Philip is actually in hospital at the moment, after being taken ill with an infection. It’s not serious but it coincided with a Jubilee concert outside Buckingham Palace. Although I’m sure the Queen would have quite liked to stay with her husband and make sure was all right, instead she appeared in the royal box for the second half to listen to music that probably wasn’t all to her taste, after three days of constant and probably tiring activity. I felt strangely protective and quietly proud of her for doing so. She’s a lady of amazing fortitude and dignity. Long may she reign.

    1. I was reading a biography about her last night, and my theory about her is right — she is a great deal like her stoic, repressed grandmother, who taught her not to show emotion in public. The public has the wrong impression of her at times, I think — she is said to have a wonderful sense of humor, a dazzling smile, and very passionate interests. I quite like her.

      Yes, I heard about that. I hope he is all right and all things considering, she did very well in spite of no doubt being very concerned about the love of her life. I did see the speech Prince Charles gave; it was very sweet, and it actually made her smile at one point.

      Long live the Queen! =)

  2. In friendships, it is important to “know” the other person or you won’t have successful relationships. I tend to be more observant than a participant so I do pick up on a lot of things. Sometimes I feel like I can come across as “rude” because I am not a very chatty person and it is something I’ve had to work at because that isn’t me! Because I’ve recognized it, luckily my personality has changed. 🙂

    Do you know, I’ve only seen this movie once! I really should see it again.

    1. Around people I have little in common with or do not know very well, I am rather quiet. But with people I do know well and am comfortable with, I talk… a lot. Interestingly, not so much with my family as friends, I suppose because I don’t see them all that often and we always have something to discuss.

      It’s a great film. A little imaginative perhaps, but truly great.

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