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The Independent

The Queen is useless: The face that launched a thousand likenesses

She has been the face on our bank notes for 60 years, subtly aged in successive engravings and given, in the previous couple of years, a barely inauthentic smile on the corners of the mouth.

Till we stopped writing letters, her face appeared on the top-right nook of each envelope we mailed.

On canvas, she’s been portrayed as overwhelmed by royal robes (Terence Cuneo), as a stern Joan of Arc (Pietro Annigoni), as a pop artwork icon (Andy Warhol), a veal-faced panto dame (Lucian Freud) and as a martyr with eyes painfully shut (Chris Levine).

Her face turned as acquainted to us as our personal moms’, although its palette of expressions is extra restricted.

For greater than half a century, the Queen nailed an expression of well mannered semi-interest, some notches above indifference with out changing into precise eagerness, when confronted by all the pieces from Sixties rock ’n’ roll and the Profumo affair to Thatcherism, homosexual rights and the web.

To every she raised the identical incurious gaze and, within the fashionable tradition of her reign, that face has been used for quite a lot of results.

First there have been pictures, then TV.

The nation’s first sighting of the previous Princess Elizabeth as Queen was at London Airport in 1952 when she returned early from a visit to Kenya after listening to that her father, King George VI, had died.

Stepping down the plane stairs she seemed slender, pale-faced, black-clad, shocked by the burden of expectation on her shoulders – however hardly regal.

The Queen and her corgis have been a favorite goal for ‘Spitting Picture’

(Rex Options)

Sixteen months later, on Coronation Day, 2 June 1953, half the nation gathered round new-fangled tv units as Geoffrey Fisher, the saurian Archbishop of Canterbury, positioned the crown on her head and introduced “Queen Elizabeth, your undoubted Queen”.

The slight 27-year-old in her white silk robe seemed severe, her fingers demurely folded in her lap. She appeared far too younger and girlish to be a successor of Queen Victoria.

Within the Nineteen Fifties, she embodied the picture of younger British motherhood in twinsets and skirts. However because the Sixties exploded right into a riot of color, youth and classless, anti-establishment pleasure, the royals appeared boringly irrelevant.

Issues improved in 1969 when Richard Cawston was allowed to deliver TV cameras into the hallowed presence: The Royal Household turned the most-watched documentary in TV historical past (drawing in 23 milllion viewers), receiving plaudits even from left-wing reviewers.

Queen Elizabeth II, Martin McGuinness, deputy first minister of Northern Eire, and Frances Fitzgerald, Eire’s minister of justice and equality, unveil a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by artist Colin Davidson


However by 1977, the yr of the Silver Jubilee, royalty was underneath assault.

Republican emotions discovered a number of shops. The New Statesman ran an anti-Jubilee version, by which the Queen was referred to as “the doll within the golden coach”.

The Sex Pistols, gang-leaders of the punk revolution, launched “God Save the Queen” (“A fascist regime… She ain’t no human bein’”), whose sleeve carried the monarch’s face with eyes and mouth obliterated by the band’s title and the only’s title.

It was a little bit of cheek by designer Jamie Reid, however the file went to quantity two within the charts and the picture entered the nationwide consciousness.

She was additional mauled within the mid-Nineteen Eighties when Spitting Picture, the latex-puppet present, routinely pictured her as a confirmed anti-Thatcherite: she was given a Marketing campaign for Nuclear Disarmament badge (or typically a Socialist Employees’ Get together one) and posed beside a bust of Vladimir Lenin.

The Intercourse Pistols’ ‘God Save the Queen’ reached quantity two within the charts in 1977


Writers loved taking part in with concepts of the Queen exterior of her consolation zone.

Sue Townsend revealed her novel The Queen and I in 1992, imagining the royal household pressured, after a republican coup d’etat, to exist on a council property on “Hell Shut”, a slice of suburbia by which the Queen is prohibited from maintaining her corgis at dwelling or grazing horses within the backyard and has to attend 5 hours to see an NHS physician.

It’s a bracing actuality verify for the pampered royals however Her Majesty, naturally, learns to adapt.

In The Unusual Reader (2007), Alan Bennett speculated on what would possibly occur if the Queen started borrowing novels from a cell library and found the fun of literature. Deeply engaged with Dickens, the Brontes and Nancy Mitford, she neglects her duties and embarrasses visiting dignitaries by exposing their ignorance of the Western canon.

It’s an enthralling lesson in regards to the subversive energy of studying, by which the royal is pictured as an keen learner quite than an entrenched philistine.

However the Queen and fashionable tradition have been by no means pure bedfellows: her world was too backward-looking and conventional, too stuffed with chilly Scottish moorlands, capturing events and ideas like obligation to share area with avant-garde artwork, boy bands and social media.

They have been, nonetheless, the pure ingredient of Princess Diana, and when Diana died in 1997, public anger and mourning seemed for somebody accountable and located it within the Queen.

Helen Mirren in The Queen

(Pathé Distribution)

She had stayed at Balmoral (comforting her grandsons, the grieving younger princes) whereas, in London, the grounds of Kensington Palace have been carpeted with flowers, teddy bears and mawkish poems.

The empty flagstaff over Buckingham Palace turned a damning image of royal neglect.

The week of constitutional drama – as monarch and topics struggled with an unprecedented breakdown of their relationship – turned a gripping film, The Queen (2006), directed by Stephen Frears with Helen Mirren because the beleaguered monarch.

The movie convincingly conveyed a second by which the Queen had been pressured to stability actual human concern together with her instinctive royal detachment and its topic was impressed sufficient with its sympathetic therapy of her dilemma to ask Frears and Mirren to the Palace for tea.

By the point of her Golden Jubilee in 2002, the Queen’s recognition had returned. Many predicted a poor turnout however, maybe re-sensitised by the loss of life and funeral of the Queen Mom that very same yr, big crowds lined the Mall.

On the climax of an enormous “Get together on the Palace” live performance, the Queen took to the stage, surrounded by rock stars; provided that she had reached up and tugged Ozzy Osbourne’s cheek may she have obtained a hotter reception.

The Queen is joined on stage by musicians together with Sir Paul McCartney at her 2012 Diamond Jubilee live performance at Buckingham Palace


Her startling intervention in the course of the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Video games, when she linked up with James Bond (Daniel Craig), ostensibly to take a helicopter experience and parachute into the Olympic stadium, confirmed not only a willingness to embrace popular culture and take part in its fictions however a tacit acknowledgement that she herself had develop into an emblem of British tradition, like 007 – or Sgt Pepper or Patsy from Completely Fabulous.

She was all the time a personality on the stage, and within the soundtrack, of her topics’ lives, till the small print of how she lived have been eclipsed by the actual fact of her presence in our backgrounds – like a beloved constructing you cross each day, a cherished portrait on a front room wall.

That course of was maybe arrested considerably by the arrival of Netflix’s The Crown in 2016, which, like The Queen, was written by Peter Morgan and reassessed the monarch’s decades-long profession of public service and self-sacrifice in a largely pleasant mild, the programme benefitting enormously from its high-calibre solid and two notably superb performances from Claire Foy and Olivia Colman as Elizabeth herself at totally different levels of her life.

We now have taken the Queen’s presence without any consideration, however her picture –oil-painted, punked, impersonated, disparaged, satirised, post-modernised – was all the time in our peripheral imaginative and prescient, an emblem of continuity, of power and nationwide devotion.

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