Acorn Media // 2011 // 106 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // January 3rd, 2012
Britain's royal family in the modern era.
The British royal family -- inspiring criticism and adulation; surrounded by pageantry and tradition -- remains essential to that nation's identity. Most recently, a global audience in excess of 300 million watched the April 29, 2011 wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. Acorn Media and Athena go deep into the motion picture footage vault for The Windsors: From George to Kate (Note: the title graphic on the program is actually "The House of Windsor: From George to Kate"), a collection of momentous monarchial events captured on film.
The documentary is a crash course on the history of the British royals from the early twentieth century to the present. The narration by Brian Blessed comes pretty fast and full of information so the uninitiated will appreciate the optional English subtitles. Neophytes, like myself, will be surprised to learn that the House of Windsor was born in 1917 when King George V wanted to sever his family's Germanic ties following the First World War. Until then, the family belonged to the house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.
The film, written and directed by Robert Garofalo, indulges in the archival footage of key events. Without the aid of graphics to remind us of the dates and players, viewers must listen well (or turn on the subtitles) to know whose coronation or wedding the throngs of Londoners are exuberantly celebrating. Some of the major events that are revisited through surviving film footage and television broadcasts are:
* Wedding of Prince George, Duke of Kent, and Princess Marina of Greece and
* Silver Jubilee of King George V, 1935
* Funeral of King George V, 1936
* Abdication of Edward VIII, 1936
* Coronation of George VI and Queen Elizabeth, 1936
* Wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten, 1947
* Investiture of Charles, Prince of Wales, 1969
* Wedding of Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips, 1973
* Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, 1977
* Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, 1981
* Wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, 2011
The final section of the documentary focuses on the background stories of Prince William and Catherine Middleton prior to their marriage. It's the rare portion of the film that isn't comprised mainly of newsreel footage, shot at a distance, of a passing carriage. While the footage of the pomp and ceremony and the immense crowds are historically worthwhile in conveying the atmosphere of the day, it does feel a little repetitive after a while. The film follows the progression of the royal family's public life with blinders on, so there isn't a connection between these events and what's happening in the rest of the world. The archival footage runs with the broadcast's original commentary and it's typically quite reverential.
"You and I, perhaps, were in that great assembly, or lined the route by which the majesties drove back to Buckingham Palace. We stood or sat and watched and waited and, when the king and queen passed, what did we do? Were our hearts too full of words or did we shout with the multitude?"
Four bonus scenes provide more glimpses of the royals in public. "The King and Queen in Washington" and "The Passing of a Great Monarch" are both Gaumont British newsreels running eight minutes each. The former documents King George and Elizabeth meeting President Roosevelt. The latter observes the reaction on the street to news of George VI's death. "William and Kate Exit Westminster Abbey" (4:30) and "William and Kate on the Buckingham Palace Balcony" (2:00) recycle television footage of the newest royal couple from their wedding date complete with the broadcast commentary (somewhat inane compared with the examples heard earlier in the program). Shockingly, the latter clip does not include the couple's kiss. Also included on the disc are biographies of select members of the royal family. These are presented as a series of text screens.
The disc's technical presentation is not ideal. The film images are generally poor with the older footage showing more physical decay in the way of scratches, dirt and softness. The black and white levels are fairly good though and while crisp and clear detail can't be had, it's easy to see what is going on. The more modern video footage exhibits more saturated colors but the slightly soft picture hides fine detail. The main program is presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer that is incorrect for about 70 percent of the footage. On 16x9 monitors the picture will fill the screen but almost all of the archival footage will be artificially stretched. If you can manually set your display to full frame, 1.33:1 ratio, the majority of the program will look much better. However, the newer footage will appear squeezed, prompting you to reset the display again to wide. Too bad the makers of this documentary didn't opt to either produce the entire program full frame or present the archival material in its correct proportions with black space on the sides of the screen. The Gaumont newsreels included as bonus scenes are presented in the correct 1.33:1 ratio. The stereo audio on the disc is just fine with narration clearly heard.
The 16-page booklet included with the disc provides more information about the Windsor tradition. Most useful is a family tree that lets you follow the lineage on a simple chart. There is a section on Royal Nomenclature that doesn't exactly explain why names change or what titles are appropriate but gives several examples. The Coronation Regalia and Royal Arms are also explained. Anecdotes about protocol and gaffes are amusing and noteworthy if you should ever have the opportunity to encounter a member of the monarchy.
It's certainly fascinating to witness these historic events from the last century and see how much hasn't changed. As the cameras can attest, the spectacle of a royal wedding was and still is a major attraction for the British public. Athena usually produces quality educational titles but The Windsors: From George to Kate feels like a rushed effort. The video presentation in the wrong aspect ratio is annoying and the lengthy sampling of the archival footage is a little tedious. Fans of the British royal family may enjoy having this collection of archival footage on their shelves, but casual watchers will be satisfied with a rental screening. Viewers seeking more William and Kate memories should be aware that they aren't the main attraction on this disc despite their prominence on the cover.
The court recognizes the sovereignty of this disc.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Footage
* The British Royal Family