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TV review - Royal Paintbox (ITV) was a show of painterly competence not brilliance

The Mindy Project, E4
  • @tds153

You could have predicted quite a lot of things about Royal Paintbox, Margy Kinmonth's film about the long tradition of monarchical artistic dabbling before seeing it, but I'm willing to bet that nobody would have guessed that it would contain an allusion to Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.

Visits to royal archives, yes. Prince Charles chuckling self-deprecatingly about the quality of his watercolours, that too. Even, perhaps, the light wash of polemic about art education, given that the Prince isn't loath to mount that particular hobby horse when the opportunity presents. But a child's tricycle tracking shot, just like the one that trundles Danny through the corridors of the Overlook Hotel? That's a long shot, surely, in more than one sense of those words.

The Danny-cam view was summoned up by Prince Charles's memories of early life in Windsor and Buckingham Palace, pedalling through the state rooms, oblivious to the great art hung on every wall. And then "suddenly when I was 14 or so the pictures came into focus". That was one explanation, he implied, for his own interest in painting. The other explanation (and it's bound to appeal to someone whose entire life has been shaped by the hereditary principle) was genetics, the British royal line having been surprisingly rich in artistic hobbyists. Even Her Majesty had a go, when she was little, producing a perfectly creditable linocut of a circus horse. And Prince Philip, whose dreadful oil painting of the Queen having breakfast was one of the earlier exhibits here.

Most royals were a bit more deft with a brush, though their ability, it struck you more than once, was a relative thing. Royal artistic talent, like the royal sense of humour, depends less on the quality of the eventual product (whether they're jokes or watercolours) than on the fact that you never really expected a lot in the first place. Prince Rupert of the Rhine seems to have been genuinely skilled, helping to develop the art of the mezzotint, and Princess Louise could surely have made a go of it as a Victorian portrait sculptor if protocol had permitted, but in most other cases it was competence not brilliance that was on show here.

That told its own story though, and one that I suspect was congenial to Prince Charles. Because until the last century the ability to draw and paint was expected of anyone of reasonably privileged background. So Victoria could turn her hand to charming little watercolours of her children and Prince Louis of Battenberg earned a bit of pocket money by supplying pictures to The Illustrated London News while on a royal tour of India.

And lots of the royal children would have been required to achieve a basic proficiency with pencil and brush. It makes a kind of sense, surely. Nobody pushes a violin at a child and says, "Just express yourself." I wasn't entirely convinced, as the programme claimed, that we'd "discovered another side to the Prince of Wales" (though there was something poignant about his longing to leave some personal impression of his soul behind him, as if his pre-booked place in the history books could never be fully earned). But I was a little surprised to find myself agreeing with him about the value of learning to draw.

Somebody recommended The Mindy Project to me, so I took a look and now I find myself in an unmade Seinfeld episode... the one in which one of Jerry's friends raves about a new sitcom and insists he watches it and then he has to find a tactful way to describe his reactions, without blowing the friendship. What can I say that will pass? It's perky, I guess, if you don't mind that (I do... actually). Oh... and I laughed at the production company final credit, which has a peremptory voice saying "Go to bed". Very funny that last bit.

A scheduling confusion resulted in us publishing a review of next Monday's 'The Prisoners' in yesterday's television column. We apologise for any inconvenience.