A Filmmaker's Review: "The Royal House of Windsor" (Netflix, 2017)
5/5 - Compelling, dramatic and majestic in every way
I’m not going to lie but when I first started watching this, the one thing I was wondering was ‘how are they going to tell me anything new? I was born and raised here, I know the story of the House of Windsor. How are they going to teach me something whilst making this look exciting and innovative?’ Now, when I actually began getting into the episodes, that was a question that was answered straight away. Through compelling evidence and a lot of the evidence presented as being ‘never seen before on TV’ - I can honestly say that I had an amazing experience of watching this amazingly made documentary series about the Royal House of Windsor.
The series starts with how the Royal House of Windsor got its name. Now, in the episode we see several things. We see evidence to suggest that there is anti-German sentiment through the way in which shops are seen battered in black and white, we also see the regular person of England at the time, in fact we see a lot of them. Large groups of people is a common symbol in this episode because it is telling the audience that the royals changed their name based on the public view of the Germans during the time. So, from the Germanic name (Saxe Coburg Gotha), they became Windsor. Then we see a turning tide from the public life, in which the royal King George V had won back public support through the changing of his name and the private life in which King George V was losing the support of his two sons through his harshness with them. The letters of Edward VIII were presented as being supporting factors for the tension between him and his father. Whereas, the treatment of the younger brother was seen as irrational since the boy had a stutter. We are made to feel conflicted about the treatment of the elder brother by his father through the fact that we are given constant evidence of his anti-conformist behaviours. However, the opinion changes throughout the documentary and this is done by primarily making him age and showing his discussions with Prince Charles and withdrawal from public life.
I think that even though Princess Diana and Prince Charles’s marriage was maybe the most famous and most watched episode of the series, the most well made episode was the one on the abdication. It was, by far, the most memorable episode because of the politics involved and the way that was presented to the audience. King Edward’s abdication is a constant shadow over the rest of the series and comes back time and time again whenever a royal is noticed to be not acting like a royal. So, if you watched the Charles and Diana episode without watching the one on King Edward, then it would not really make too much sense. The abdication episode was a cinematic masterpiece. It was filled with this rather intensely royal music, to make the abdication extra clear and yet it also showed the politics between various figures that would later or then make them turn against one another. These figures include Wallis Simpson and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, King Edward and the coming King George VI and eventually Prince Charles and Prince Phillip. It was like watching history over and over again try and break from its own traditions. When it comes down to it, I think that this documentary is really trying to show us that radical thought, practice and philosophy does not work when you are in a royal household - the modernisation only really worked for Prince Phillip because he is married to the Queen.
When it comes to cinematography, the various photographs that are shown, both ones we are aware of and ones we are not, are not only there to show us people - but are also there to show us a very particular point in time. They are like milestones in which the audience get a visual of what it would have looked like to be that particular person in those particular years. We get videos of (then) Princess Elizabeth aboard a ship to South Africa and it humanises her. Whereas, we also have the video of her coronation which makes her royal again. The two sides of every figure in the show are incredibly effective in presenting the connection between figure and audience. I think that this again, is best achieved in the episode about the abdication. In conclusion, the show is brilliantly made and I really do wish it was longer.