Is there any person on earth more well-known as Queen Elizabeth II?
Perhaps I’ve misspoken: Is there any person on earth who we believe we know more than Queen Elizabeth II?
Directed by Roger Mitchell, Elizabeth: A Portrait in Part(s) covers the journey of Queen Elizabeth II from childhood to today. As Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, Elizabeth remains has sat on the throne for 70 years and continues to represent the nation to the world. From her Annual Christmas Address to meeting celebrities or grieving the loss of Diana, Elizabeth’s life has been filled by many moments that inform one another and create an image that she intentionally presents to her millions of followers.
Although the title Elizabeth: A Portrait in Part(s) might seem odd, it could not be a more accurate description. Unlike most other documentaries, Portrait tells the story of the famed monarch through brief snippets, home videos and pop-culture references held in constant juxtoposition. Commentaries are left from all the interviews and conversations. In short, this is a film which seeks to assemble a portrait of the queen rather than investigate her story in any particular depth. Classic films are interspersed with personal footage.
Wild and unruly, the film is a fascinating journey. In essence, if a collage could exist as a film, this would be it. As a result, there’s a certain punk sensibility to the film which surprises. In many ways, this feels like an underground newsreel from the 1970s or 80s. By assembling the footage under the banners of topics such as ‘at home’ or ‘a ticklish sort of job’, Portrait compiles its pieces together with a winking sense of humour. We all understand that there are pieces to the role of the queen—and Portrait demonstrates how they continue to endure throughout the decades. No particularly new information or salicious secrets are revealed yet the film feels as though we’re seeing these images for the first time.
And ‘image’ is essential to this Portrait.
Because of its creative decisions, Portrait is free to explore what it means to carry such a public image. In some ways, the film feels like it actually communicates more truth then had it been a more traditional style of filmmaking. Through its emphasis on the pieces of this Portrait, the film highlights the fact that the image of the monarchy is very carefully constructed. Held in high esteem by millions, Portrait reveals that very few people actually know her personally. There is an aura around the monarchy which precedes her and establishes the relationship with her public before she even has the chance to meet them. For example, at one point, the film speaks to the reaction of people when they come in contact with her. Because of her public image, even the most famous celebrities find themselves reacting to the notoriety than the person herself. Some find her image fascinating. Others find it frustrating or even angering. Nevertheless, this public response—either positive or negative—reveals less about Elizabeth herself than it does for the monarchy and its history.
However, the amazing thing is that Elizabeth seems to be very well-known. Although the general public believes otherwise, Portrait would suggest that they do not. Under public scrutiny for decades now, her world has been carefully fashioned to convey certain ideologies and imagery yet Elizabeth herself is relative unknown. Countless documentaries, films and television series have explored the Royals’ response to world events, from wars to Diana’s passing. But, truthfully told, no one really knows what Elizabeth was feeling during these moments.
Even after 70 years, Elizabeth remains a relative unknown.
Elizabeth: A Portrait in Part(s) understands this truth and simply wants to explore the journey of a woman that the world believes they understand. However, despite the best efforts of the general public to discover otherwise, the life of Queen Elizabeth II remains merely a portrait assembled my pictures.
Elizabeth: A Portrait in Part(s) is available in select theatres across Canada on Saturday, May 28th, 2022.