Sunday, April 3, 2011

American Fascination with British Royalty

Like many Americans, I can’t help but be a little obsessed with the upcoming nuptials of the UK’s Prince William and Kate Middleton. We’ve watched the Prince grow up, become a teenage heartthrob and grieve the loss of his mother and to see him finally marrying his college sweetheart and settling down—it just gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside. Clearly our love of love stories and high profile romances has something to with the American interest in the royal wedding, to be performed at Westminster Abbey on April 29th. But I think there’s something about the idea of royalty that intrigues Americans, especially British royalty, because we feel our nation is so similar to theirs. In the past few years, it seems American interest in British royalty has reached a new high since Princess Diana's death.
In 2005, a different royal union took place when Prince Charles married his longtime love, Camilla Bowles. Their marriage was controversial for several reasons. Charles and Camilla had an affair during his marriage to Diana and the late Princess famously said, “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” Marrying Camilla was also controversial because she was a divorcee, so the two married in a civil-ceremony.
Of course, most of the recent attention has been on William’s royal wedding since it was announced in November of last year. Older Americans remember Princess Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles, the scandals that followed after and her tragic death in 1997. They see Prince William’s engagement to Kate Middleton, who comes from a wealthy family, but is still a commoner, as an indication that times are changing and the royal family is becoming a bit more relaxed. But there are plenty of formalities and traditions of the British royal family left—like those ridiculous hats and stuffy suits women wear to formal occasions—to entertain American curiosity. Kate Middleton has managed to top many “Best Dressed” lists despite her adherence to this stifling dress code.

The curiosity we have with the inner workings of the British royal family was explored in the 2006 film, The Queen, which came out after Charles and Camilla were married. The film starred Helen Mirren, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II. The focus of the movie was on the Queen’s attempts to handle Princess Diana’s death and tension between her adherence to royal protocol and the intense public love for Diana, who was no longer a member of the royal family after her divorce from Prince Charles. 

More recently, The King's Speech, which came out in December of last year (a month after William and Kate became engaged), satiated Americans’ cravings for a peek into royal life and swept the Oscars, winning “Best Picture” and “Best Actor” for Colin Firth. The King's Speech is a historical drama about King George VI, who became king after his brother abdicated from the throne to marry for love, and his efforts to improve his speech impediment so that he could give radio speeches to his country during WWII. Like The Queen, The King's Speech revealed the pressure and formality of life as a royal and the struggle to serve their country during modern times and simultaneously maintain royal conventions. Americans’ seem to love the romantic and foreign concept of royalty and the controversial role of the British royal family in the UK.