Meghan Markle will be joining the last of the silent movie stars; the Royals. But for the American actress, this is her greatest role yet.
The Royal Family are the last, great silent movie stars. Because if there is anything that is ‘the will of the people’, it is the Royal Family. We, the people, want them there. We want to gaze at this great silent movie of royalty.
They are among the inhabitants of the silver screen of our imaginations, propped up by hundreds of years of myth and bits and pieces of history. There are small amounts of truth there, too.
But like the arrival of sound in film in the 1920s, and the discovery that some of the stars had squeaky voices, reality and truth is never allowed to intrude too much on the Royals. They exist to be projected upon, speculated about, loved or loathed. Queen Victoria made sure of this, as part of her successful drive to erase the memory of her forebears: the Georges III and IV.
But it was another George – V – who understood that the Royal Family had to keep quiet and project the image that the nation has of itself. Not an aspirational one, nor its opposite. Just the ‘middle’. The glorious middle. It was all about the royal equivalent of ‘tickety-boo’ – until the arrival of Lady Diana Spencer. The game changed. But only for a minute.
What she added to the silent movie was an air of being on the run – ‘the snap’.
Now Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge has taken that ‘snap’ and made it not paparazzi-friendly, but suburban-friendly. A brilliant move.
We last saw her standing in her high heels on the steps of the hospital in which she had given birth. Her smile and her wave was much like any other new mother. But there was the message, too – the sign: she is polished and straight. On duty. She is the silent movie that every new mother wants to portray as she leaves the maternity ward with her newborn: polished, shiny and bright.
It is her husband, William, who is the director of photography in the new Royal Family silent movie. The press are weeping because he and his brother have effectively shut them out. This movie is now under control of Two Brothers Productions. Like it or get lost.
The deviation that proves the rule of the Royal Family silent movie is the fact that the Duchess takes her own snaps of the children. Her photos of Prince George and Princess Charlotte are meant to convey an image of childhood. Not a modern one, but an Edwardian one. There are, of course, official photos: one very amusing one of the Queen and her great-grandchldren. The Queen looks like ‘great granny’, seated in her simple dress and shoes. One tiny tot – Mia Tindall – is holding the Queen’s massive handbag. It all looks fun and informal. But these, too, are part of the movie. Another instalment in a long-running franchise.
The photos of Prince Henry Of Wales and his fiancée, the American actress, Meghan Markle, cast them in their part of the movie right from the start. They are, what Markle herself has labelled them ‘a couple in love’.
I can remember seeing my first photo of them, snapped as they walked down Shaftesbury Avenue, in central London. They were in full view, cuddled up against the wintry winds, smiling and laughing and gazing into the eyes of the other. It was easy to see, from that picture, why the Prince is known by his nickname, Harry. And why he is said to be, after the Queen, the nation’s favourite royal. Everyone who cares wishes this guy luck and happiness.
After all, it was the attempt to get pictures, to intrude and re-order the Royal Family silent movie, that were among the factors that led to the death of his mother, Princess Diana. It was the nightmare of her fatally injured in the back seat of a car, the driver of which had been fleeing cameras, that is, for us who remember, one of the shadow images behind every shot of her younger son.
He and his fiancée are called ‘cute’ by some. But aside from the fact that two people in their mid 30s have long left the world of cuteness, it helps fix them, moulds them for us. They are solidly in their place – part of the continuity… for now.
Never mind that a woman who seems to be a typically gregarious Californian is now having to adjust, in real time, to her new part. She has been an actress and this will be her greatest role.
We have already bought our ticket, taken our tub of buttered popcorn, and are sitting in the dark waiting for this new part of the movie to begin. As audiences did with that great diva of the silent screen, Gloria Swanson, back in the day, we come for the storyline and the fashion; the mood music; a few special effects; and the closing credits.
We, the public, co-creators and consumers of all of this, want the ending that we want. We want this movie’s silence, too, its essential stillness.
I will be doing some broadcasting from Windsor on the week of the Royal Wedding.
This is strange, in a way, because I was broadcasting at the wedding of William and Kate. That wedding, too, had its own Royal Family silent movie stillness and soundlessness. So did the Mall, even though it was filled to bursting with cheering people.
I can only remember myself in the crowds there, darting about, a bit unsteady with the kind of disorientation that can happen in a close mass of people.
Everyone seemed to be taking pictures, waving flags, roaring, screaming, applauding. I found myself accidentally standing close to the path of the car that the Duke drove, with his wife beside him, as they headed down the Mall to Clarence House.
We looked at each other for a brief nanosecond. They looked like two ordinary people, a bit tired, eager to keep moving. I did not know that I was looking at them until I heard the voice of a woman behind me. She was trying to take their picture. She told me in, the tones of a person about to commit murder, that I was blocking her view. That she had been standing in that place and waiting for this moment. All night.
The coin issued to celebrate Harry and Meghans’s wedding has them facing one another, gazing into each others’ eyes. ‘The Loving Couple’ will never have a quarrel, never frown, never shout, never gaze at each other in stony silence. This, new section of the silent movie is about togetherness, closeness, reaching across the divide.
For now, the soon-to-be newlyweds are frozen in that pose. The real Meghan and Harry will elude us. Most people will not want it to be any other way.