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Twenty Five Years (1977)

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16 February 1977 (UK)  »

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25 Years - Impressions  »

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A celebratory documentary released to cinemas in the UK to celebrate Elizabeth II's Jubilee, it was put out in a double bill with White Rock (1977). See more »

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The Constant Royal Round
1 August 2013 | by (England) – See all my reviews

This documentary collage was released to cinemas in 1977 to coincide with the Queen's silver jubilee. If my memory serves me correctly, it was poorly reviewed and rather less than successful. There was even a storm in some local newspapers about it being pulled before the end of its first week of release – commercial cinemas were apparently supposed to subsidised a flop because it was supporting the monarchy. The film was shown very soon after on television (bypassing the then 3 year after release agreement that UK terrestrial TV had in place with cinema distributors) and promptly vanished into obscurity. It disappeared so completely that for years it didn't even have an IMDb listing. Now it's released again on DVD, in the 60th anniversary year of Elizabeth II's coronation.

Viewing at this distance, it's easy to see why reviewers might have been less than enthusiastic. The film edits together disparate footage from the past quarter century in order to make a single point – that though enormous changes have occurred, Elizabeth is a constant fixture. So, we see footage of the Queen with British Prime Ministers from Churchill to Heath, French premiers from De Gaulle to Giscard d'Estaing, various commonwealth leaders; we see footage of notable news and sports events, such as Kennedy's assassination, England's 1966 World Cup victory and the Moon landings. Against the backdrop of ever-shifting History, Elizabeth carries on her endless round of ceremonial events, openings and launches, state visits. The point is endlessly repeated – through it all, she remains.

The trouble with this is, whilst it makes its point precisely, it doesn't offer any counter-argument. That a film celebrating the Silver Jubilee should unquestioningly support an argument for monarchy is unsurprising and it could hardly have done otherwise, yet this does not make for very exciting cinema. Nor does it reflect the problems that were on the surface in the UK by 1977, erupting in industrial disputes, the compact with Europe, tensions over immigration and a nascent Republicanism, soon to be spurred by the release of the Sex Pistols' God Save the Queen single (a rather more commercially successful enterprise than 25 Years). A film which acknowledged all of this might still come down on the side of constitutional, hereditary monarchy but it would have had to take a more robust approach to the subject.

Still, Peter Morley's film is impeccably edited and, at 73 minutes, it hardly outstays its welcome. Because it is now more than 35 years old and much of the archive footage used is considerably older, it has genuine curiosity value. It also looks back at a time when coverage of the Royal family was neither salaciously celebrity-fixated nor resentful and critical. That attitude, of a detached and respectful deference and understated defence of the institution and people is long gone, was dated even in 1977. It is actually rather intriguing to see it now. Ironically it does – because things have changed so much – now carry a sense of unintended drama, as the argument it makes is so rarely heard in the mainstream, and certainly never in such an unfussy tone.

Finally, it is probable that Peter Morley meant to make something impressionistic, as the full title 25 Years – Impressions suggests. Elizabeth's life is repetitive and unchanging, even as world-changing events fly by. Viewed in this way, the film does slyly suggest that the life-long job of the monarch is not particularly enviable and it could cause a grudging respect and empathy in the heart of all but the staunchest Republican.


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