Last Night's TV: Wallis Simpson: the Secret Letters/Channel 4
Timothy Spall: Back at Sea/BBC4

 

Wonder what the Queen was watching last night? We know already that she's a big fan of Timothy Spall, so she may have kicked back at 8.30 with the second series of his amiable circumnavigation of the British Isles, Timothy Spall: Back at Sea. But when that finished did she get the butler to come in and flick over to Channel 4 for Wallis Simpson: the Secret Letters? She must have been slightly interested surely, and I can't really see her watching Sebastian Coe on Who Do You Think You Are? instead. Or ITV2's repeat of Benidorm. What's more, if she did watch, what did she make of it, having grown up with a less than forgiving view of its subject matter?

There's no real point in making a Wallis Simpson documentary these days unless you make it a revisionary one. Channel 4 ran another one several years ago, which argued that the king was effectively the victim of a constitutional coup and Wallis was just a useful excuse for levering him off the throne. But last night's film took a more personal tack. Based on private letters recently discovered by her biographer Anne Sebba, it argued that Wallis had become trapped in her relationship with Edward, only realising too late that the man she truly loved was her husband, Ernest.

She'd certainly written letters of great tenderness to him both before and after her divorce: "I miss you and worry about you," she wrote to him from Felixstowe. "Oh dear... wasn't life lovely and sweet and simple." And then, after the abdication crisis, this: "Ernest, my dear. What can I say when I am standing next to the grave of everything that was us." Ernest was no slouch himself when it came to a poignant goodbye: "I know that somewhere in your heart there is a small flame burning for me. Guard it carefully, my darling, and don't let it go out if only in memory of the sacred lovely things that have been. Someday I pray God will fan it into a blaze again and bring you back to me." Noël Coward couldn't have done much better really.

To take these messages as conclusive evidence that Wallis didn't love Edward would require a rather naive conviction that people can't be in two minds at once – or that Wallis hadn't simply been temporarily terrified by the public furore that surrounded her relationship. We can't know for sure, even now, though Sebba certainly made a believable case for an affair that started in knowing frivolity (the discreet bedroom swapping of the upper classes) and ended in a cul-de-sac out of which Wallis knew she couldn't reverse. Though she tried to break off the relationship, Edward threatened to kill himself if she did: "What a bump I'll get when a young beauty appears and plucks the prince from me," Wallis had written to her aunt in more insouciant days, quite at ease with the ending she thought was inevitable. What a bump she must have got when she discovered the story was to have a different twist.

It's not hard to see why Her Majesty would like Timothy Spall: Back at Sea. Here is a man who does for fun what she has do out of obligation – visiting various parts of the realm and rhapsodising about its beauty and diversity. He's now reached the Irish Sea and the recipe is essentially the same one that proved so successful in the first series – a lovely mix of fretful seamanship and intense pleasure in small things: "We came here across the Irish Sea! Like Vikings!" Spall enthused, after making it to Northern Ireland, which would only really have been true if the Vikings spent most of their sea crossings worrying about bumping into other ships.

If you'd thought he might by now be more blasé at sea you'd be wrong: "As my experience increases, my nerves seem to increase exponentially," he said, "The more I know, the more scared I get." Hazards in last night's episodes included unexplained bangs as they entered a Naval firing range ("You should be OK," advised the local coastguard, which didn't sound nearly unequivocal enough to me), and a passing tanker that didn't seem inclined to give him right of way. High points included the Crown Liquor Saloon in Belfast, and Spall's unhurried and ad hoc commentary on what he's up to. As his converted barge headed for Scotland, cutting through the waves with all the grace of a pig trying to climb into a hammock, he said, "It's like being drunk without the pleasure." But you knew he didn't really mean the last bit.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment