American, divorced - but this royal bride was a nasty piece of work: CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night's TV
Wallis: The Queen That Never Was (C5)
Peaky Blinders (BBC 2) ?
The timing is so good, it’s almost as if Wallis Simpson’s cunning ghost has planned it. What better moment for a documentary in praise of an American divorcee marrying into the Royal Family?
Wallis: The Queen That Never Was (C5) wasn’t so much sympathetic as adulatory. Historians clamoured to tell us how misunderstood this poor woman was, how cruelly abused by the Press, how innocent and guileless.
We’re ready to hear her side of the story, because of the very evident love between Prince Harry and his bride-to-be. But the two romances could not be more different.
Georgina Rich played Wallis Simpson in the C5 documentary on the Queen who never was
Wallis was a wickedly manipulative woman. In the rare glimpses of news footage that this programme employed, her spiteful glee in wrapping Edward VIII around her fingers seemed to glitter in her eyes.
One shot, which lasted no more than a couple of seconds, had been suppressed in early 1936. British newspapers were forbidden to publish stills from it, because the public was not allowed to know of the new King’s affair with Mrs Simpson.
The film showed her dressed in mourning, with her veil lifted, at the window of Buckingham Palace, as the accession to the throne of her lover was announced. He stood beside her. She was grinning like a good-time girl with a new diamond.
Pressie of the week: ?
?Aiming a blow at Netflix and Amazon, the BBC is putting many top box sets on iPlayer for 30 days, including all of Line Of Duty and Happy Valley, plus classic EastEnders.?And it’s free. Christmas comes early.
But this documentary shied away from historic footage, relying instead on extensive re-enactments. It is common for history shows to use actors in costume, setting up silent tableaux to illustrate key moments.
This was different. Whole scenes were acted out, with dialogue taken from letters and diaries.
Wallis (Georgina Rich) also had a habit of turning to the camera and drawling her secrets in a Deep South accent, as if the director had suddenly decided to make a cut-price version of House Of Cards.
The historians applied whitewash with a broad brush. ‘Edward’s need for her was pathological, it was obsessional,’ said her biographer, Anne Sebba.
‘Edward fixed upon her with an obsessive compulsiveness that swept everything aside,’ declared Lady Colin Campbell in that peculiar posh-Jamaican style of hers (she always sounds like the Queen Mum doing Bob Marley).
Peaky Blinders on BBC 2 paused for breath to decide how to fight the New York Mafia
Not content with insisting that Mrs Simpson was blameless in the affair, they also glossed over her politics. ‘Some of Wallis’s friends were known to be at least sympathetic to the far-Right in Germany,’ conceded one. That’s a bit mild — she and her husband were guests of Adolf Hitler in 1937.
There was also no mention of how she cheated on the Prince of Wales and her then-husband simultaneously, with a car salesman called Trundle. In fact, this two-hour special painted her as a saint. It looked splendid, but you couldn’t believe a word of it.
Just as spectacular and far-fetched, Peaky Blinders (BBC2) paused for breath as the Shelby family stopped fighting among themselves for long enough to decide how to defend themselves against the New York Mafia.
This drama’s speciality is the unforgettable moment. One came in a Stratford-upon-Avon hotel, where a Sicilian mafioso stuffed an entire fruit scone down the throat of a hitman who complained about English cuisine.
But the big set piece belonged to Arthur (Paul Anderson), as he confronted Communist saboteurs in his factory and had a bucket of red paint emptied over him. Then two sharp-suited gangsters wearing spats loomed from the smoke and opened fire.
All Arthur had for a weapon was a lump hammer. What more does a Peaky Blinder need? This is glorious, comic-book stuff.
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