Oscar-winning director Roger Michell enchants audiences with his latest and last film Elizabeth: A Portrait in Part(s). The British filmmaker known for directing Notting Hill (1999), Venus (2006) and The Duke (2020), passed away on September 2021 after completing his final cinematic oeuvre: a whimsical collage documentary about Queen Elizabeth II.
Using archive images spanning decades, from the 1930s to 2020, Elizabeth: A Portrait in Part(s) offers a celebratory, unusually waggish portrait of Her Majesty, an icon of our century, in the year of her Platinum Jubilee. Elizabeth II has ruled for longer than any other Monarch in British history, becoming a much loved and respected figure across the globe. Her extraordinary dedication to duty, her sense of propriety in public and private affairs are an example not only to the people of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, but to people across the globe. Ever since her Coronation in 1953 at Westminster Abbey — when she acceded to the throne at the age of 25 upon the death of her father, George VI — the Queen held links with over 600 charities, associations and organisations, accepting her fate and carrying it out with honour and responsibility.
She leads by example and her gentle charisma has been tributed in a incommensurable number of motion pictures, theatrical representations and publications. Elizabeth: A Portrait in Part(s), thanks to an engaging rhythmic montage, provides a fresh and modern chronicle of the extraordinary 70 year reign of Her Majesty the Queen. The inventive feature documentary by Roger Michell presents the icon in a more approachable manner, as her exquisite sense of humour and her passions intertwine with the public image.
Many actresses have portrayed Her Majesty Elizabeth II on screen, such as Helen Mirren in The Queen; Olivia Colman and Claire Foy in The Crown; Sarah Gadon in A Royal Night Out and Emma Thompson in Playhouse Presents, just to mention a few. Innumerable publications have recounted the deeds of Elizabeth of the House of Windsor. Equally bounteous are the audiovisual narratives that have retraced her life, from the 1992 BBC television drama serial Elizabeth R to the 2007 fly on the wall documentary series Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work or A Year with the Queen. The first accounted one was the 1969 Royal Family, that originally aired on BBC 1 and ITV. This documentary was commissioned by Elizabeth II to celebrate the investiture of her eldest son, Charles, as Prince of Wales. It was a seriously informative, even didactic film, constructed around the narrative device of a year in the life of the monarch, with a commentary by Anthony Jay explaining what she did and why through the voice of Michael Flanders. But it is the very Elizabeth: A Portrait in Part(s), by South African director Roger Michell — who has become more British than many Albion natives — that delivers the most significant montage of visual remembrances dedicated to her thus far.
There is a prologue (Beginnings), followed by chapters like The Queen’s Speech (a mishmash of her well-known official speeches), Ma’am (the royal protocol to address a sovereign), Close-ups (Her Majesty’s portrait review), In the Saddle (describing her passion for horses), Celebration (the role of representation of a Queen), Love Story (her extraordinary romance with Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh), Heavy is the Head (…that wears the Crown), Mummy (a multifaceted regal parent), Horribilis (the difficult year with Diana and Windsor Castle set on fire), all the way up to Goodnight to bid a conclusive salute.
The behind-the-scenes look at the life of the longest-serving female head of state in history, amalgamates original footage through expressionistic artistry. The meetings with 13 presidents throughout her reign; the moments in which the weight of the crown became challenging both physically and allegorically; her husband, children and grandparents sharing the love for horse riding and life in the countryside; all coalesce through a pop narrative that brings to light the most discreet traits of the Queen. Playful yet judicious; poetic yet practical; cheeky yet wise; frolicsome yet impeccable. This is Roger Michell’s personal and affectionate portrait of a woman who is cherished across all cultures and generations. The filmmaker presents her as a multifaceted individual who Sir Paul McCartney once defined as “a good-looking woman” and “quite a babe.”
Still today, ‘God Save The Queen’ is a heartfelt hymn that acknowledges how this inspirational figure demonstrated utter dedication to the role that was thrust upon her, transmitting a sense of balance, fortitude and hope. As the Duke of Cambridge expressed: “I think I speak for my generation when I say that the example and continuity provided by The Queen is not only very rare among leaders but a great source of pride and reassurance.”
Final Grade: A+