The queen, as imagined: from punk rock to detective stories

In the spring of 2012, portrait painter Ralph Heimans stood on the Cosmati pavement of Westminster Abbey waiting for the subject of his latest commission, Queen Elizabeth II. When she got close, he says, it was an extraordinary moment.

“He wore his state tunic, with four waiters holding it, and as he walked down the long corridor it was a very theatrical kind of entrance,” Heimans said soon after learning that the queen had he died on Thursday at the age of 96.

After spending an hour the queen, “discussing subtleties”, came up with “a sense of how caring she was, almost a sense of shyness, an introspective quality.” In his oil painting, hanging in Westminster, he has drawn her as a solitary, even thoughtful figure with downcast eyes, with the vastness of Westminster behind her as so much weight of the past – and of the present.

“I wanted to show her in this private moment, with a certain gravity on her,” he says.

For the past 70 years, authors, directors, playwrights, songwriters and painters have responded to the queen both as a symbol and as a human being, either by commenting on the height of her position or by attempting to tease the inner life of a woman who rarely spoke in personal revelations. public and avoided. The double qualities of her, majesty and mystery of her, found her imagined in settings ranging from the sobriety of real art to the anger of punk music to the various characterizations of film and television.

“I think because she was a constant presence that didn’t say much, it allowed people to project themselves onto her in different ways,” says Elizabeth Holmes, whose “HRH: A lot of thoughts on royal style” was released in 2020. “Plus, you can easily make people look like the queen. You can take it as a starting point and run.

In the film, the queen was fictionalized in everything from Helen Mirren Performance by Oscar in “The Queen” to farcical “Naked gun” film and the gloomy “Spencer”, with Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana and Stella Gonet as Elizabeth. But she was most thoroughly dramatized in the Emmy-winning Netflix series “The Crown,” which follows her life from the beginning of her reign to recent times – and whose production has been suspended Friday after his death.

When played by Claire Foy as a charming young monarch, it is seen that she is finding her new life, trying to maintain a happy relationship with her husband, Prince Philip. her as she approaches her royal duties with the sobriety of someone years older than her. Olivia Colman takes over as Elizabeth ages and becomes more mature, prickly and imperfect, initially failing to travel to the scene of a devastating mining tragedy in Wales and comfort the citizens, and proving insensitive to Diana’s problems with her son, Prince Charles. .

“I emo. The queen is not meant to do that, “Colman told Vanity Fair in 2018.” She has to be a rock for everyone and has been trained not to (emote). ”

The queen herself hasn’t commented on her works or always seems to be aware of cultural trends: greeting Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page at a palace reception in 2005, she seemed unsure of who she was and what instrument she played. But she sensed her place in the world and had enough experience to appear with Daniel Craig, in the character of James Bond, to a video of the 2012 Olympics, and good enough humor to get painted skydiving from a helicopter (the former was really her, the latter a stunt double).

Fiction writers enjoyed taking the queen on offbeat adventures. By Emma Tennant “The Queen’s Autobiography”, the monarch flees to St. Lucia in the Caribbean. SJ Bennett worked from the premise “What if the queen solves crimes?” in writing detective novels “The Windsor Knot” And “A problem with three dogs”.

“He had such a unique perspective on the world. She was always looking out when everyone was looking at her, so she has to see a lot of things the rest of us don’t see, “Bennett, the daughter of a military veteran who had met the queen, told The Associated Press.

“It was his character that fascinated me, not his position as a symbol,” he added. “She was intelligent, often underestimated because she was traditionally not educated and was infinitely curious about people. In her books I see her eagerly gazing out the windows of Buckingham Palace as she is painted for a portrait, to see what was going on outside her, because that’s what she really did. She had a very ironic sense of humor and a huge instinct for fun, but still an almost supernatural instinct for diplomacy and a first-rate sense of duty. “

The musicians paid tribute to her, condemned her and invoked her name for a quick laugh.

For punk and New Wave artists it was a monument to be demolished. The Smiths’ “The queen is dead” scoffs at the royal family and the succession to power: “I say, Carlo, have you ever wanted / to appear on the front of the Daily Mail / dressed in your mother’s wedding veil?” The Sex Pistols helped define the punk movement in 1976 with “God Save the Queen,” where Johnny Rotten (now Lydon) declares “No future” as he growls some of the most ferocious and nihilistic lyrics ever to top the British charts:

God Save the Queen

The fascist regime

They made you an idiot

A potential H bomb

God Save the Queen

He is not a human being …

The songwriters otherwise responded with affection. Duke Ellington met her in the late 1950s and found her “so inspiring” that he soon teamed up with Billy Strayhorn on the pensive “The queen’s suite,” for which he arranged a single gold ironing just for her. In the late 1960s, Paul McCartney dropped acoustics, 23 seconds “His Majesty,” with its cheeky refrain, “Her Majesty is a very nice girl / But she doesn’t have much to say”, and the Beatles added it to the end of “Abbey Road”.

As explained in “Paul McCartney: the lyrics”, released in 2021, he wrote the song in part because the queen didn’t really make many public statements, beyond her annual Christmas speech and the opening of Parliament. McCartney met the Queen numerous times, as Beatle and as a soloist, and even played the song for her. But he reaffirmed in his book about her: “she didn’t have much to say”.


AP national writer Jocelyn Noveck contributed to this report.

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