Prince William – A Planet For Us All, review: It’s easy to be cynical, but I found it surprisingly moving

Prince William talks about his duty to save the planet in new ITV documentary 

Sean O'Grady
Tuesday 06 October 2020 07:19
Prince William, in his gentle, charming, unassuming way, is becoming quite an adept TV presenter
Prince William, in his gentle, charming, unassuming way, is becoming quite an adept TV presenter

I don’t know about saving the planet, but Prince William is certainly working jolly hard to save the British monarchy. The House of Windsor has long known the value of showcasing adorable royal kiddies to soften even the most bolshevik of hearts, setting an example of idyllic family values and all that. Now it is the turn of the Cambridgettes, George, Charlotte and Louis, to build a bridge to the future, and they are heavily featured in the film. The Cambridges have successfully recruited Sir David Attenborough to the monarchical cause – you’ve also seen that on the news – and no doubt the association suits his noble green purposes too. Such are nature’s symbiotic relationships.

There is a strong subliminal message of this long documentary, another Cambridge-ITV collaboration (after one in May on mental health) that rivals the more controversial Sussex-Netflix deal. The benefits and longevity of the monarchy are hinted at during a sequence celebrating a magnificent 450-year-old tree still thriving in the sanctuary of the royal estate at Sandringham. Planted in the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth, it should still be around for when, in due course, little Prince George accedes to the throne of whatever is left of the United Kingdom. William wants his children to inherit a clean, green sustainable earth, but a clean, green sustainable throne would be nice too. 

William is thus at great pains to stress the effort his father has put into environmentalism, which is fair enough, but also the contribution of his grandfather, which I took to mean Prince Philip, rather than his maternal grandfather, the late Earl Spencer. While it is true that Prince Philip was a patron of the World Wildlife Fund, he is also well known for taking potshots at anything that moves, including tigers, boar, crocodiles, and, of course, the British press. Still, one mustn’t quibble. 

It’s easy to be cynical about the monarchy and the environment, and that is my proud default setting. However, I did find William’s film surprisingly moving. It is beautifully filmed in stunning locations from Anglesey in Wales to the Hindu Kush mountain range that stretches through Afghanistan, and with the usual cast of popular charismatic creatures: elephants, red squirrels, penguins, dragonflies, and so on. The Attenborough Doctrine – we can still save the earth but there ain’t much time – is hammered home. It’s all rather too familiar, and, frankly, tedious. 

What is more interesting and uplifting are the small hopeful examples of people doing something about it. We learn about a community in Africa’s Namibia “guarding” their rhinos, the teenagers in Scotland’s Ullapool who saved their coastline from industrial dredging, and a remarkably eloquent 10-year-old kid from Liverpool named Elliott who’s started a national movement of junior wildlife guardians. Elliott (now 11) is an embryonic Attenborough-style green leader of the future who I hope we will see more of. He and his mates at All Saints Catholic Primary School in Anfield have built an insect refuge wittily called “Bugingham Palace”, complete with a Fuzzy-Felt queen bee on the balcony. William appreciates it, as do we all. 

William, in his gentle, charming, unassuming way, is becoming quite an adept TV presenter. He even manages to sound quite monarchical in his informal moments, leaning on his Land Rover like a farmer but declaring of Britain’s youth: “I owe it to them to help their voices be heard”. He seems sincere. 

Use your horn: face to face with a rhino in Namibia

Consciously or not he is setting a surprisingly high bar for Harry and Meghan to reach when their Netflix production schedule gets going. (By the way their names went unmentioned for the full 60 minutes.)

William knows he can’t ever advocate XR-style protests or voting for the Green Party, but he did put one sting in the tail of his personal film, by praising Greta Thunberg: “What Greta’s done is really quite interesting. People were desperate for someone to come along. Thank goodness there’s somebody there with a young voice being active.” The prince might be right, but I’m not sure that all of his grandma’s ministers, or indeed all of his more climate-sceptic future subjects would go along with that. He should probably stick to hanging out with Sir David. 

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