Tomorrow Elizabeth II is set to surpass her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria as the longest-serving monarch in British history. To mark this historic occasion, the BBC last night aired The Queen's Longest Reign: Elizabeth & Victoria; and thus began the longest hour of my life.
Queen Victoria was exactly that for 63 years and seven months. As of tomorrow, it will be 63 years and 216 days since Elizabeth came to the throne. I understand that this, regardless of your views on the royal family, is interesting. And that arguably, Vicky and Liz are really doing their bit for Girl Power. However, the BBC presented The Longest Reign in such a smug, one-sided manner – glossing over great swathes of history in the process – that it was close to unbearable viewing.
Presented by Sophie Raworth, the programme set out to compare and contrast both women's reigns – without, in typical BBC style, drawing any criticisms of either.
Neither Queen expected to ascend to the throne – Victoria was originally fifth in line, Elizabeth third – yet, as the result of deaths and abdication, both found themselves crowned at young ages, Elizabeth at 25, and Victoria at just 18.
Elizabeth, Sophie excitedly told us, "had the common touch" from day one. Why? Because she was "raised by normal Scottish nannies". Of course, who wasn't?
And Victoria, who following her husband's death in 1861 barely set foot out in public, "was always working tirelessly behind the scenes" we were assured.
If ever there was a family with a Hollywood history, it's this one. But the BBC did its damned finest to cover it up. Not one mention was given to the multiple assassination attempts that Victoria survived. And while it was nice to see Sophie dutifully following an impeccably turned-out Elizabeth around on her state duties (from a polite distance, of course), I wanted to hear more about her renegade uncle, Edward VIII, who dramatically abdicated so he could marry the American divorcée Wallis Simpson.
OK, so maybe that wasn't part of Elizabeth's story, but what about all the top-secret information she's been entrusted with over her 63 years in "soft" power? All the Cabinet papers she's been privy to? Surely that was worth a mention amid all the cooing at her hats and the fawning over her busy schedule? Well they were mentioned, yes, but only as Sophie sickeningly gloated about the 12 Prime Ministers who had come and gone while Elizabeth stood firm. She did, we learned, upgrade the monarch's once "regular" meetings with the PM to a weekly one. God save the Queen indeed.
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