Sir Laurence Olivier prerecorded the narration in May 1953 since the coronation rituals were known prior to the actual event. This allowed the footage of the coronation to be released almost immediately after it was shot on 2 June 1953. See more »
The Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II is a fit moment to reappraise this pioneering feature-length Technicolor newsreel/documentary of her Coronation in 1953.
A fruity commentary written by Christopher Fry, whose post-war vogue as a poetic playwright was just beginning to fade, is delivered with too much ham by Laurence Olivier. He is in "Henry V" mode but without the material- his final words are "May the Queen live for ever!", which sums up the poignantly over-optimistic mood of Britain as she struggled out of austerity and socialist government, hoping that the 27 year old beauty would lead her people to prosperity while retaining great-power status.
Unfortunately the day of the Queen's crowning dawned overcast and rainy, as if to dampen such hopes. Nor were the London crowds helped by a bus strike. This must have taxed the Rank Organisation, throwing every cameraman it could muster into the fray to film the procession and service in Westminster Abbey from a host of angles. A film had been made of the previous Coronation in 1937, in monochrome; but the fairly new one-strip colour cameras, light enough to be manoeuvrable, required blazing lights in the murky Abbey which made guests feel uncomfortably hot. They also had to be heavily blimped to pick up live sound without motor noise, but the track is often slightly fuzzy, and the Abbey interiors can be too dark for the viewer's comfort.
In today's prints the film looks a little drab for the brilliance of its jewels, costumes and banners. But in other ways, technical limitations aid the effect. The zoom is not yet in use, so there are no close-ups of sweat beads, whiskers and open pores, trivialising what is at heart a religious rite with the "personal touch" so tempting to outside broadcast directors. Time and again we see personages from a distance or from overhead, which makes their interaction and the meaning of the ritual clearer, beside imposing a sobriety which suits the dignity of the occasion: the cameras are privileged spectators, not interlopers.
Deference and solemnity were more customary then. However far the British have shifted towards intimacy and exposure in half a century, the aesthetic imposed on Castleton Knight's team by technology fitted the spirit of the "Second Elizabethan Age" in its idealistic beginning. At the time the film was cited by those who wanted commercial television in Britain: J Arthur Rank had proved that a profit-minded tycoon could turn out as handsome a souvenir as the BBC's epoch-making television relay.
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