Couch Potato Briefing: Royal Wedding Edition

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Caught in the warm afterglow of royal nuptials, Global Spin’s weekly guide to rental movies to bring you up to speed with the week’s events takes another tilt at all things monarchical. Presented by Tony Karon and Ishaan Tharoor.

The Queen

Helen Mirren’s stately journey into the mind and soul of the unsmiling Queen Elizabeth, who showed up in yellow at Friday’s nups, allows director Stephen Frears to meditate on the purpose of Britain’s monarchy — via the person of one Tony Blair. The movie focuses on the weeks following the death of Princess Diana, when the then newly elected Prime Minister (played by Michael Sheen) rescues the House of Windsor — and with it the very institution of the monarchy — from its image of callous indifference to the loss of a beloved princess. Despite his default-republican roots in the Labor Party, Blair quickly transforms into a dewy-eyed monarchist — much to the disgust of his wife, Cherie, who sees the Windsors of as a decrepit legacy of a pre-democratic past. Great insights, here, into the workings of the Palace. Oh, and of course, in retrospect, Cherie gets the last laugh: For all his fawning newly-discovered royalism, Tony Blair was left off Friday’s guest list. – T.K.

Henry V

Henry V is your archetypal nationalistic schoolboy’s adventure — except that it’s written by Shakespeare and its eponymous protagonist was a France-conquering 15th century king. Kenneth Brannagh’s 1989 rendition brings to life an English monarch in full virile stride: a willful rascal with huge courage and even more patriotism. Henry V led a force across the channel to reclaim lands he thought were his — remember these British royals were not really English, but from Normandy (the current dynasty, of course, was a German import) — and famously defeated a larger French force at Agincourt in 1415. Since then, the ne’er-do-well Prince Hal who becomes imperious, “once more unto the breach” King Henry V has been a heroic model for generations of English lads — perhaps even our somewhat dull, somewhat balding newlywed.- I.T.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

The philosopher kings of British comedy had a habit of cutting the quick of social issues through riotously funny absurdist skits. As much as you laughed, there was always a thoughtful undertone to the wit: And just as The Life of Brian offered an hilarious but informed take on some key questions in Anglican theology, so does Monty Python and the Holy Grail lovingly dissect Britain’s monarchist mythologies — nowhere more uproariously than in the almost Brechtian scene, above, in which King Arthur invokes the Lady of the Lake and the sword Excalibur to convince skeptical peasant anarchists of his claim to sovereignty. “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government,” one retorts. “Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical acquatic ceremony.” — T.K.

The Madness of King George

Although you’d not have sensed in the unbounded devotion of America’s news networks to Friday’s wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Americans once so loathed the principle of monarchy that they took up arms to break free of the writ of Buckingham Palace. Not long after losing the colonies that became the United States, King III also lost his marbles.  Nicholas Hytner’s film explores his descent into dementia, providing a ribald statement of the absurdity of monarchic rule that makes some of Monty Python’s finest parodies seem like documentaries.  – T.K.

King Ralph

Since Mark Twain, we’ve got used to the binary of the stiff, withdrawn, mannered Brit set against his boorish American country cousin. King Ralph, starring Jon Goodman, takes the stereotypical clash to its greatest height: the entire British royal family dies in a freak accident, with the next successor to the throne improbably being a rakish, portly guy from across the pond. You can imagine the hi-jinks and the gags and, as formulaic and cheesy as it gets, we are amused. – I.T.


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