The first people’s princess
Decades before Diana, Britain’s royal family had another “people’s princess”, Queen Elizabeth’s sister Margaret. When Elizabeth ascended to the throne upon her father’s death, Margaret felt very much shunted aside. Her efforts to secure some attention for herself lead to a somewhat scandalous as a hard-drinking party girl, made notorious by the press and a frequent source of embarrassment to her relatives.
The Queen’s Sister was produced in 2005 by the BBC for television. In the opening titles is a disclaimer of sorts: “Some of the following is based on fact. And some isn’t.” The video follows her during the period from the death of her father to the late 1970’s. Having given up her fairy tale romance with the dashing (and divorced) war hero, Peter Townsend, in favor of maintaining her status, wealth, and luxury, Margaret moved on encounter little more than instability, disappointment and frustration. Some of her problems were self-inflicted, stemming from her own inherent haughtiness and sense of noblesse. Perhaps others were created by the demands of her social position. But it appears likely that Margaret made her own bed. We all have to live with the consequences of our choices.
Lucy Cohu plays the princess with great style, vibrancy, and yes, bawdiness. Toby Stephens as husband Antony Armstrong-Jones, Lord Snowden, does a nuanced job reacting to the stringent requirements of royal marriages, which are conveyed to him by Margaret’s brother-in-law, the Queen’s smooth enforcer, Prince Philip (finely acted by David Threlfall). The background shots capture the ambience of the 1950’s, ’60’s, and ’70’s, as does the music. Far from a dispiriting docudrama, The Queen’s Sister is fast paced, frequently funny (when the Archbishop tells Margaret he can’t marry her to a divorced man, she retorts, “I thought that’s why the Anglican church was founded.”), lively, and entertaining. It is also a reminder that “there is nothing new under the sun”. Perhaps Kate Middleton ought to check this one out!