Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Noblesse oblige

All of a sudden, all of the old feelings came flooding back.

Without warning, I was once again an anglophile. Not just an anglophile. I was a monarchist, an unrepentant royalist.

I don’t like to talk about it much, but like a lot of Americans, I went through a period of fascination with all things British, including the idea of royalty and aristocracy. When cable TV finally arrived in my little farming community, I discovered the PBS affiliate in Los Angeles and was introduced to the world of 1960s BBC programming. (This was, of course, back in my pre-parent days when a BBC-PBS collaboration meant something other than the dreaded Teletubbies.) I was at once accosted by a sense of cultural and linguistic inferiority. Everything those Brits said on the telly said seemed so much wittier than anything I could ever utter, largely by virtue of their tremendously cool accents.

I was weaned on The Forsyte Saga and The First Churchills. Ironically, The Forsyte Saga has just made a return, not to BBC but to the rival ITV, with a new generation of actors and, inevitably, a shorter running time to accommodate the shorter attention spans of 21st century viewers. I haven’t seen the new version (the critics haven’t been kind to it), but I don’t need to because, well, because I saw the original. It was a Victorian period piece then, and it is a Victorian period piece now. Remaking the perfectly fine original is akin to Gus Van Sant remaking Hitchcock’s Psycho.

My affair with Brit television more or less ended when I went to university and my television viewing in general went on hiatus. So I missed the Upstairs Downstairs craze completely, as well as all the other British imports that have populated PBS, A&E, etc. since. By the time I personally owned my first TV set (more than a decade later), my anglophile phase had passed, although it did have a bit of resurgence when I happened onto a repeat broadcast of Brideshead Revisited and became hooked for the entire series. More recently, I have become fond of Cold Feet, when I can watch it. But its attraction has virtually nothing to do with its British-ness. It’s the clever writing and self-recognition of adults coping with the challenges of relationships, marriage and children. This series could have been set anywhere and still have been a hit with me. Well, maybe not anywhere—since a US version failed miserably.

But even for a while during my television-less days, the passion for all things British continued, largely through big screen historical costume epics like A Man for All Seasons, The Lion in Winter and Anne of the Thousand Days. (The old passion lately found a bit of resurgence with the release of American director Robert Altman’s tribute to the British stiff upper lip, Gosford Park.) Back then, I found myself drawing my own genealogical tables to keep straight in my own mind the progression of Plantagenets, Stuarts, Tudors, and the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, which somehow became the current House of Windsor. I envied the subjects of the United Kingdom for having such a rich and long history.

Then, at some point, it struck me how utterly illogical a monarchy is. It is the ultimate codification of the inevitability of life’s lottery. The status of your parents determines your social class for your entire life. How utterly, well, un-American. My fascination for aristocracy faded. More recently, suffice it to say that getting involved with an Irish woman and spending extended periods in the Republic of Ireland has done nothing for my appreciation of British history. This is to say nothing of the all-too-human tabloid-fodder antics of members of the British royal family for as long as, well, for as long as there have been tabloids. For me, modern royals had become a bit tedious.

But on Tuesday morning, something happened. I found myself knocking about the house alone and decided to turn on BBC and watch the coverage of the Queen Mother’s funeral. Unexpectedly, I was swept up in the pageantry, the ceremony, the beauty of the service. It was, heck, it was majestic. The import of the history wrapped up in this woman’s century-long life finally and fully struck me. I had the sense of witnessing one of history’s remarkable moments. This was not Princess Di’s funeral with Elton John reworking one of his old pop songs as a tribute. This was the real deal. Everything was by the book. The service not only celebrated the Queen Mum. It celebrated protocol. For the first time in decades, I found myself envying the British.

This feeling will likely pass. But for now, I will dust off my old notes and try to figure out once again how Queen Victoria, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Prince William are all related.

A final note: I know some people with monarchist tendencies may have been offended by my flip comment about the Queen Mum last week. But thoughtful readers will realize that I was really taking a jab at notions of celebrity, not at the Queen Mother. Besides, I was properly dressed in black tie when I typed it.

-S.L., 11 April 2002

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