Watching 'Withnail' with The Queen
The bizarre experience of sitting in the cinema with royalty.
I can now confirm that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has seen Withnail and I and Shame. Well to be fair, she only saw about two seconds of each, but I’d like to think her curiosity has been piqued and she’s got both in the Buckingham Palace LoveFilm queue tonight.
Those short clips and others — from the expected (Lawrence of Arabia, Oliver Twist, Chariots of Fire) to the unexpected (Trainspotting, In The Loop, a rather bare-bottomed look at The Full Monty) — were part of a showreel of great British films screened to her Majesty during her visit to London’s BFI Southbank this morning.
And she even got to see Helen Mirren starring in The Queen. If that wasn’t meta enough, there was also plenty of footage of the Queen herself decades ago, with an infant Prince Charles.
She was at the BFI to mark 60 years since the inauguration of the National Film Theatre on the Southbank (more serious coverage here.)
The audience assembled to welcome here — some of the good and the great of the film industry — were treated to a 20-minute 3D film, Royal Review, that was shot during her Coronation year, 1953. The 3D wasn’t to James Cameron-standard but the 3D shots of umbrellas in the rain on Coronation Day drew a knowing laugh from the audience.
Jonathan Ross hosted some BFI National Archive clips, plus footage of Submarine director Richard Ayoade (also in attendance) talking about how the NFT and BFI had influenced him.
Head curator Robin Baker spoke about the National Archive’s restoration process, showing off some recent Hitchcock restorations.
Then it was time for some silent films from the Archive (with piano accompaniment from Neil Brand). One highlight was Dog Outwits The Kidnappers (1908), surely an attempt to please the corgi-loving Queen. Other selections included footage of Queen Victoria at Balmoral as well as 1949 and 1952 footage of the Queen and her family. There’s nothing quite like watching a royal home movie on a big screen a few seats down from a royal.
Yes, even the larger-than-life personalities of the film business are well behaved when the Queen’s in the room. It was quite a sweet feeling (plus, when the Queen is around you can evidently have cake starting ridiculously early).
No doubt there were countless dramas going on behind the scenes, but to the guests it was quite calm. Well done to the BFI for putting on a lovely morning.
BFI veteran Brian Robinsonemerged as a perfect Master of Ceremonies, walking the audience through royal protocal while maintaining a sense of humour — ‘It’s all about choreography today,” he joked.
Screen’s royal correspondent [as editor I can give myself any title I want] had practised her curtsey this morning just in case, but sadly only got as close as a few feet away. Still, that was close enough to see HM chatting amiably with some VIP guests. She had a smile on her face for most of her time at the BFI, with more sparkle in her eye than we saw during the Jubilee Weekend. So maybe she is a film lover after all.
With today’s event such a success, Screen would now like to invite Prince Harry to join us on the Cannes party circuit.