Lucy Worsley's Royal Photo Album

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A Coronation Portrait

Cecil Beaton knew exactly how he wanted Elizabeth’s 1953 coronation portrait to look: glamourous, campy, romantic. Take a look at what went into making the famous photo.

AIRED: August 16, 2020 | 0:02:11
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TRANSCRIPT

(dramatic orchestral music)

- In 1953 Beaton and Elizabeth put on

their biggest show ever.

Beaton knew exactly, how he wanted his photograph

to capture the coronation and this was the result.

An image infused with glamor and more than a hint of camp.

Elizabeth was transformed into a sovereign

with star quality.

Cecil Beaton was less a photographer than a magician.

He was able to conjure up pure romance.

What he did that day, was create an idealized

fairy tale version of a queen.

It was a theatrical fantasy.

The shoot took his team of assistants

several days to prepare.

There were so many people involved

that Beaton didn't even press the button

on the camera himself.

As if even Buckingham Palace wasn't grand enough.

Beaton brought in a backdrop of Westminster Abbey,

where the coronation had just happened.

He had his sister arrange the queen's outfit

and he shone a really bright light right at her head

to give her a sort of a halo effect.

There had never been a more

otherworldly coronation portrait.

By drawing on the past,

Beaton was underlining Elizabeth's credentials to rule.

Just like a renaissance artist.

Beaton is doing the same job for our queen

that Holbein had done for Henry VIII, minus the codpiece.

Beaton was clearly drawing on centuries

of royal portraiture.

Just like Henry, or, and Elizabeth I,

the queen's wearing a sort of super human outfit.

But unlike them, she looks warm.

She's not intimidating and that seems right

because she's a monarch who no longer has hard power.

Instead she has soft power.