In Review

Elizabeth: A Portrait in Parts film review – an elegant tribute to the Queen

Directed by the late Roger Michell, this documentary is ‘insightful, mischievous and assembled with panache’

Of the many tributes to the Queen in her platinum jubilee year, none is likely to capture the “resilience, tedium and absurdity” of her 70 years on the throne as wittily as Roger Michell’s documentary, said Ed Potton in The Times. It was his “last act” – he finished it just before his death last year, aged 65 – and “like many of his films, it’s insightful, mischievous and assembled with panache”. 

He and editor Joanna Crickmay had almost a century of footage to work with, and the montages are quite “hypnotic”: we see the Queen saying “my husband and I” again and again, across the decades, riding dozens of horses, watching scores of tribal dances. Some moments from her reign verge on the surreal (“We’re deeply honoured to say, Your Majesty, ‘Welcome to Crackerjack!’”), while others are “hilariously boring, as David Cameron briefs her on a tractor factory in Basildon”. 

Handshake, after handshake, after handshake – “I felt exhausted just watching her,” said Francesca Steele in The i Paper. But this “whimsical” and “elegant” film is not dull. Just as you wonder if she can make any more small talk, there is a “gentle joke” to break the monotony: Paul McCartney revealing that to teenagers in 1950s Liverpool, the Queen was “a babe”; a clip of Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra spliced into footage of the royal barge at the diamond jubilee

It adds up to “a profoundly moving portrait”, said Simon Heffer in The Daily Telegraph, one that is made more “poignant” by Michell’s choice of music, from Gracie Fields and George Formby to the Beatles and Stormzy. It is, of course, a picture of an extraordinary woman, but it is also “a picture of us”, and it reminds us “not just of her profound decency, but also, oddly enough, of ours”.

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