You don’t need to look far to find someone obsessed with the concept of royalty, something Disney has glamorized for decades through the Disney Princess franchise. Of the real life royals of the world, none are endowed with as much reverence as those of the United Kingdom. With an award-winning Netflix series fittingly titled The Crown dramatizing the life of Britain's longest reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, National Geographic seeks to provide a condensed overview of her life thus far in Being the Queen, an hour-long special premiering August 31st.
Told semi-linearly, Being the Queen uses never-before-heard interviews and never-before-seen footage to create a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II from Emmy and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Tom Jennings, who also directed the National Geographic Documentary Film Diana: In Her Own Words. My one and only complaint about Being the Queen is that it’s too short, condensing six decades of leadership into a single hour.
Being the Queen goes back and forth through Queen Elizabeth II’s timeline to group events together. It starts with her becoming queen, then takes you back through why that was an unexpected event for her. Then it covers her marriage, taking you back to how she met Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten and through the birth of her four children before covering her role as a mother. In a way, every tonal shift of the special feels like the queen is swapping her crown for a different kind of hat.
A great deal of time is spent on the scandals of the throne, starting with her sister, Princess Margaret, having an affair that made headlines in the 1970’s. This section also includes Elizabeth’s uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicating the throne to marry an American divorcée, which made her a princess overnight. And ultimately, a moment that this story can’t be told without, the marriage and divorce of Charles and Diana.
The last segment of the documentary begins with the Queen’s perceived cold response to the death of Diana, which then backtracks to her handling of the South Wales disaster. The two events are juxtaposed, along with the Queen’s reasons for staying out of the spotlight during those moments.
Being the Queen fulfills its task of painting a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II and making viewers feel like they’ve received some insider knowledge about her life. But as I said earlier, the special could’ve easily been a lot long, maybe even a miniseries to counter the historical liberties taken on Netflix’s The Crown. And if you find yourself loving every moment of Being the Queen, be sure to follow it up with Diana: In Her Own Words on Disney+.
I give Being the Queen 5 out of 5 corgis.
Being the Queen premieres Monday, August 31st, at 9/8c on National Geographic.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.