When Prince William and Kate Middleton’s engagement was announced, the media went swoony at the news that he had given her Princess Diana’s sapphire-and-diamond engagement ring. Now, I don’t know what goes through Kate Middleton’s mind – why would I? – but I know this: I would not want to get engaged with a ring from the most spectacularly bad marriage in recent history.
We can’t unknow the ending of Charles and Diana’s shattered fairy tale, but the ginned up media coverage of this new royal wedding is based on the pretense that we can.
It’s as if the entire media world is asking us to join in some mass delusion that we’ve all moved back to 1981. A taxi-TV ad in New York City cabs even tells you to “set your alarm” for ABC’s live coverage, which begins at 4:00 A.M., although setting a DVR works just as well today.
Seeing the 2006 film The Queen, with its astute portrayal of the public-relations damage-control the royals so needed after Diana’s death, should have been enough to take the fairy-tale gloss off William and Kate’s wedding. Instead, we’ll be bombarded with prime-time network specials before and after, and endless infotainment reports leading up to the live broadcast, all wearing blinders to the fact that we’re viewing this spectacle warily, informed by plenty of disillusioning truths about royals and their marriages.
The latest installment in the media onslaught is tonight’s Lifetime movie William & Kate. Its tag line, “Who says fairy tales don’t come true?” suggests how much the film tries to have it both way.
The movie is as stiff and old-fashioned as paper dolls or a puppet show, dutifully following Will and Kate from their college days, when friendship turned to romance, and quickly through the “Waitie Katie” period to the engagement. The real Will, let’s face it, is not as dashing as Nico Evers-Swindell, who plays him here. And Kate has a softer prettiness than Camilla Luddington, who looks just enough like her to be distractingly “off.” But the film slavishly gets the clothes right. (The real Will and Kate’s engagement photo is above right, the pretenders’ reenactment on the left.)
If you’re not going to get depth of character in a royals movie – and you clearly aren’t in this quickly-made fluff – you might hope it will be outrageous and laughably bad, but William & Kate is tiresome, with few leaps of imagination. Just as well, because those leaps are horrendous: Will berates his father (Ben Cross, doing a spot-on Prince Charles) for not protecting his mother from the press. As if that neat little “the paparazzi killed her” conversation happened.
The film has one revealing element, though: it positions Kate as a heroine because of her down-to-earth common sense. She is the only girl at university who doesn’t pursue William, and when they get together she is loaded with advice that guides him on his royal way, advice that could have come straight from self-help books. He should follow some dream of his own, she wisely says, so Wills, as everyone calls him, learns to fly. This praise for the commoner-who-would-be-queen is the closest Nancey Silvers’ screenplay comes to acknowledging that the glow disappeared from royal marriages decades ago. (There is nothing half-hearted from director Mark Rosman; he just goes for cliched shots whenever possible.)
The movie ends with Will getting down on one knee and putting Diana’s ring on Kate’s finger. Maybe giving Kate that sapphire was more than a way of connecting with his mother; it may have been a way of reversing or redeeming fate, of putting the ring to better use this time. We can’t know what he was thinking either. But we can be sure that endless royal calculations and vetting preceded that moment. And ironically, it is largely because Diana willfully and often shrewdly pulled the royals (kicking and screaming) out of the past that we have so few illusions about the blinkered, deluded media fuss surrounding her son’s wedding today.