The theater, the cinema and ourselves (1947)

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CHALLENGES 5. KINGS, QUEENS AND SUCHLIKE Both the stage and the screen have always had difficulty with kings and queens, for in their everyday life they are so little known. They nearly always appear on parade, the puppets of their press agents, or in a studied intimacy of home life— reminiscent of Laurence Housman's angels and ministers. Even Shakespeare failed to produce a really human, personal sovereign. Henry V is a magnificent stage facade, Henry VIII an essentially theatre monarch, while Hamlet's uncle does little more than register the dramatic values expected of him. We seldom get really intimate passages such as "Queen Victoria walked briskly to her room—she wished she was not so short—the more she liked Disraeli, the more he irritated her, more than Gladstone in his way, she merely detested Gladstone which was quite a different thing. But there was always the new face powder. What a blessing smells were when one was annoyed and had to face the daily Parliamentary report." Even if we did get that kind of thing we should, perhaps quite rightly, think it cheap and not believe it. In victoria regina there is a pleasing two-dimensional picture but is there a real person? Do we really believe in her as a living human being? Who can re-create these quite ordinary people made unique by the lives they are forced to lead? There are, of course, two methods. You start with a purely fictitious character, born of your imagination, and, being careful not to let any "facts" get in the way, develop it. But how impossible to forget scattered anecdotes, reminiscences, letters, how easy to produce an unconvincing mixture of fact and fiction. But the opposite method is perhaps worse. Real facts illuminating the whole personality are rare— those who know don't tell and those who tell don't know. How varied for instance are our conceptions of Queen Victoria's youth—a refined girlish queen on the one hand, on the other a rather pleasantly coarse young woman who loved a romp and like her son Edward talked with a distinctly German accent. Contempor- ary propaganda and the iconoclast tendencies of a subsequent age colour both extremes. The intimate self of a sovereign is so carefully guarded, minor incidents minimized, others exaggerated, many never told, that what we read or see on the stage or screen is usually little more than the reflection of a nation's contemporary or retrospective desires. But this nation-made conception of a sovereign, partly created by press agents but not altogether, has often an interest of its own. Tudor England stepped into the skin of Queen Elizabeth and worshipped itself, there was no doubt much strutting at Lambeth as well as at the court. Stuart England stepped into the skin of Charles I and began to hate itself. When Charles was executed something that had once been 12