Monarchy on screen – free!

15th July 2016

Academic open access publishing is a complex issue but developments in the field mean that an increasing number of titles are available as freely downloadable e-books. I think one of the services that this blog can provide is highlighting a different volume each week, beginning today with the collection The British monarchy on screen, edited by Mandy Merck. Manchester University Press published this as a hardback in February at the eye-watering price (sadly, quite usual now for academic volumes) of £70. But now thanks to Oapen online library and MUP it can be legitimately accessed here as a free downloadable .pdf.


This is a terrific collection, scholarly but accessible, and packed with interesting essays for those engaged in film and television studies (and it’s good to see cinema and broadcast media explored alongside each other), history, politics and social studies. Mandy Merck contributes a cogent introduction asking the key questions:

In what way is the significance of [the British monarchy] inflected by the key genres – action adventure, costume drama, the ‘biopic’ and melodrama – with which it is portrayed in the fiction film? How do these understandings shift with the international production and consumption of such fictions? What connections are drawn between royal celebrity and movie stardom? How is the deference with which the British royal family has historically been portrayed in its national media affected by the greater informality of contemporary social subordinates? Do the richly brocaded broadcasts of royalty on state occasions contradict their more critical coverage in history documentaries and current affairs programmes? What happens when the spectators enter the ceremonial scene?

Key recent films that are analysed from a number of perspectives include The Queen, 2006, and The King’s Speech, 2010, but there is also extensive discussion of silver screen portrayals of Victoria and Elizabeth I, the two most popular monarchs for the makers of movies. There is also a deeply researched essay about the German actor Anton Walbrook, who after fleeing the Nazis went to Hollywood and then – because he looked like Prince Albert – was tempted to England to play the consort in Herbert Wilcox’s Victoria the Great, 1937.

Contemporary television is also considered in explorations of recent Channel 4 documentaries about royal history and also the US mini-series The Tudors, 2007-10. Basil Glynn argues that this is a prime example of the post-national, post-historical series that has developed as an alternative to BBC costume drama. In an engaging and detailed examination of the series, Glynn emerges as a fan of what he describes as ‘a counter-cultural depiction… that in many respects does this particular monarch a favour.’

Perhaps it’s because these are topics in which I’m especially interested at the moment, but the contributions that I particularly valued were essays about royal documentaries of the early Commonwealth and about live public screenings of royal occasions over the past decade and more. Taking on the latter subject, Ruth Adams talks with participants at recent big-screen events and suggests,

In the context of a fragmenting and globalising media landscape, and a more diverse and geographically mobile audience, the increasing ubiquity and popularity of large screens as a focal point for public gatherings in public space may be taken to represent a desire for new forms of collectivity… My research suggests that in attending these public screenings, people seek not only communality but also, and apparently paradoxically, the ‘live’ experience, a sense of ‘being there’ and the chance to claim themselves witnesses to history.

Back in 1954, the crowds who were there to see the Queen on her royal tour of Australia were a key element in the film documentary The Queen in Australia, produced by Stanley Hawes as the first feature-length colour documentary made in the country. Jane Landman teases out the contradictions of a film made very much in the tradition of John Grierson and the British Documentary Movement of the 1930s. The context of its production and reception, however, was the early days of the Commonwealth and the clash of discourses of family, morality, power and independence. Here’s a rather wonderful extract, made available by Screen Australia, and further extracts can be accessed here:

As a postscript, let me recommend as warmly as possible, Catherine Grant’s excellent online resource Film Studies for Free that apart from much else alerts those who follow it on Twitter and elsewhere to the availability of open access publications like The British monarchy on screen. Further titles can be found here.

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