All of England came together to celebrate an historic milestone yesterday, as Queen Elizabeth II became only the second monarch in 1,000 years to reach her diamond jubilee — an occasion marking her 60th year on the throne. The nationwide festivities kicked off on Saturday, when the Queen attended one of the year’s premier horse racing events, and culminated Sunday with a flotilla-led pageant down the River Thames. More than one million people lined up along the drizzly Thames to catch a glimpse of Her Majesty, who led a fleet of 1,000 ships from aboard her “royal barge.”
Sunday’s ceremony was the centerpiece of this week’s pageantry, but celebrations are very much ongoing, and extend well beyond England’s borders. More than 10,000 people were expected to show up for a Jubilee picnic today at the gardens of Buckingham Palace, just hours after politicians across Australia, New Zealand, and Tonga came together to light a series of “diamond jubilee beacons” — giant torches, lighthouses, and other pyres meant to symbolize the global signalling network once deployed by the British Empire. The first beacons were lit along the Pacific Rim, igniting a “relay” that will see torches lit all across the globe, including one at the Treetops hotel in Kenya, where Elizabeth II first received word that her father, King George VI, had passed away. It was at this point that she became Queen.
Since ascending to the throne in 1952, Queen Elizabeth II has overseen dramatic changes both within her dominion and around the world. She was also on the throne during times of national crisis, including the Falkland Islands War, the ongoing Troubles in Northern Ireland, and, of course, the death of Princess Diana, in 1997 — a moment that Stephen Frears chronicles with painstaking detail in The Queen.
Released in 2006, Frears’ film covers the immediate aftermath of Diana’s death, when the Royal Family and then-Prime Minister Tony Blair were struggling to form a public response to the tragedy. The recently-elected Blair urged Her Majesty to open Diana’s funeral to the general public, and to make a statement on the matter, while the Queen insisted otherwise, arguing that the crisis was a private matter.
The divide, as portrayed onscreen, underscored some fundamental tensions between the two parties, while perpetuating long-held beliefs that the Royals were withdrawn the point of dysfunction. But these perceptions begin to shift over the course of the film, as the audience gradually works its way into the inner workings of Buckingham Palace, and, more important, into the Queen’s psyche. It’s a side of the monarch that’s rarely been on public display, and one that goes a long way toward softening her public persona.
Below is a clip from the early stages of The Queen, when Blair and Elizabeth II discuss the tragedy (and their possible response) during a notably tense telephone call.