Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Before Prince George, there was King George V and his Queen Mary

Months before the new British Prince George made his earthly debut in late July 2013, the Rhode Island PBS program director scheduled a two-part portrait of his great-grandmother's grandparents (his great-great-great grandparents) - and the ancestor for whom the little prince was named, it turns out. King George and Queen Mary: The Royals Who Rescued the Monarchy examines the lasting legacy of the couple who rescued the monarchy from potential disaster. Rhode Island PBS presents this two-part documentary on August 8 and 15 at 9 p.m.

Episode 1 (August 8 at 9 p.m.) focuses on King George V. George could not have been a more unlikely modernizer. Born and brought up in the Victorian age he was conservative to his fingertips. yet in the face of unstoppable social change after the First World War he turned out to be a remarkable innovator, creating the House of Windsor, embracing democratic reform, and reinventing many of the royal traditions that we know today. When he celebrated his silver jubilee in 1935 the monarchy was more popular than ever. But as a parent King George V was far less successful - he bullied his children and alienated his eldest son and heir, Prince Edward. As one courtier remarked at the time, ‘the royal family are like ducks, they sit on their children’. By contrast, King George had a loving relationship with his granddaughter, and much of Queen Elizabeth’s style and commitment to duty can be traced back to this early influence. A long-form preview of this first episode is below.

Episode 2  (August 15 at 9 p.m.) focuses on Queen Mary, who came from a relatively humble royal background, but was picked as a future queen consort by Queen Victoria. At first she was betrothed to Prince Eddy, heir to the throne. But when Eddy died during the influenza pandemic of 1891-92, she was unceremoniously passed to his brother George. Despite the arranged marriage, King George and Queen Mary had a loving relationship. Mary revered the monarchy and obeyed her husband in all things - even the length of her dresses. She always put duty and service first. But when King George died in 1936, this once rigidly formal character emerged as a determined if eccentric royal matriarch with a mind of her own. When the abdication crisis threatened the future of the House of Windsor she was the rock to which the nation turned as a symbol of stability and continuity. Queen Mary died in 1953, having lived to see her granddaughter, Elizabeth, ascend to the throne, but not her coronation.