The U.K.’s Queen Elizabeth has been front and center lately. Between an awkward state visit by the U.S. president in early June and the colorful celebration of her 93rd birthday a short time later, she has recently occupied a lot of media attention.
But the Queen has a long history in the minds of the American public. I first heard about her when I was growing up in Chicago and she ascended the throne after the sudden death of her father, King George VI.
The brilliant Netflix TV series, “The Crown” (which I’ve recently caught up with on DVD), has revived my memories of the early tenure of the Queen. One particular episode in Season I immediately caught my attention. At the beginning of this episode, “Smoke and Mirrors,” the young Princess Elizabeth helps her father prepare for his coronation in 1937 (following the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII).
The extreme closeness between father and daughter is demonstrably clear.
The story moves on to the preparation for Elizabeth’s own coronation in 1953. By this time, her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh (dubbed Prince Philip in 1957), has assumed a significant role in her life. He insists upon orchestrating the coronation itself, choosing to bring “the modern world” into it.
His efforts to “democratize” the ceremony leads to a shocking innovation: televising it. He proposes that television cameras capture all of the pomp and circumstance in Westminster Abbey. This move is unthinkable for many who had long served the royal family. One of the holdovers from the past calls the prospect of televising the coronation an “unconscionable vulgarization.”
But even despite the opposition of Winston Churchill, the Duke finally gets his wife’s approval, and the new queen’s coronation is broadcast on black-and-white TV for all the world to see.
This splendid episode on “The Crown” has special relevance for me. As I watched the story unfold, I was brought back to June 1954, when a color version of the coronation was showing as a film in a movie theater in Chicago. For some reason I can’t recall, my father was in charge of me one day. He decided that we would go together to see the film at the theater in downtown Chicago.
This was a memorable event for me. I adored my father, but he usually devoted more attention to my older sister than to me. I was the little sister who, on road trips, was relegated to sitting in the back seat with my mother while my sister sat in the front seat next to Daddy.
It’s not surprising that my father could communicate more readily with my sister, who was two years ahead of me in school. Although both of us were voracious readers (stunning our local public-library staff by how quickly we zipped through countless books), my sister was probably reading at a somewhat higher level and understood more about the world than I did at that time.
Following a similar pattern, Elizabeth was the older daughter in her family, and if the opening of “Smoke and Mirrors” accurately portrays her relationship with her father, he paid more attention to her and depended more on her than on his younger daughter, Margaret.
As the younger daughter in my family, every hour I could spend with my father when the two of us spent it alone was more memorable than those we also shared with my sister and mother.
That’s why seeing the color film of Elizabeth’s coronation with Daddy became one of my most treasured memories. Going downtown and plunging into a darkened movie theater in the middle of the day with my father, but no other member of the family, was extraordinary.
When Daddy died later that year, I was staggered by losing him. As I grew older, it became increasingly clear that our afternoon watching Elizabeth crowned in Westminster Abbey was an afternoon I’d never forget.
As we celebrate Father’s Day this year, I recall once again how lucky I was to have that golden time with him and him alone.