The world recently watched the impressive formal activities surrounding the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. Her funeral had been planned and scripted out decades ago. Yet, most families don’t talk about funeral planning, just as so many avoid estate planning.
This summer also marked the 25th anniversary of the death of Diana, “the People’s Princess.” A tragic car accident prompted a Royal funeral crisis, which challenged the monarchy’s responses to distraught U.K. mourners.
We find helpful funeral planning guideposts in the 2007 film The Queen. It traces The Royal Family’s evolving response to the death of Princess Diana in 1997 and the planning and implementation of her funeral.
After Diana dies at the age of 37 in a car accident in Paris, The Queen decides that the Royal Family should hide their mourning behind the closed doors of Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Her aim is to protect her grandsons, the young princes William and Harry, from the press.
At this point, Diana was divorced from Prince Charles for a year. This put the Royal Family in uncharted territory for holding a funeral for an ex-royal, who was nonetheless a good mother to the young princes.
The Queen’s inclination is that the funeral arrangements are a “private affair” and best left to the princess’ own family, the Spencers. With the public’s overwhelming reaction, the British inclination to hold a private family funeral with a “stiff upper lip” wasn’t the best way to mourn.
At the urging of Prince Charles, The Queen sanctions the use of a Royal Flight aircraft to bring Diana’s body back to Britain. Charles ensures that his ex-wife’s coffin is draped with a Royal Standard. He is amazed at the public response he witnesses in both France and England.
The heartbroken public doesn’t understand the royals’ aloofness. In the days following Princess Diana’s death, millions of British people in London erupt in an outpouring of grief, crowding around Buckingham and Kensington palaces to leave floral tributes and notes. Mourners flock to sign the dozens of condolence books set out in London and at U.K. embassies around the world. The press goes wild with demands that The Queen comfort her people, and when there is no response, start calling for an end to the monarchy.
The newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair and The Queen negotiate throughout the film to reach a compromise between private family mourning and the public’s demand for an overt display. After days of building pressure, Blair calls The Queen at Balmoral and urgently recommends a course of action he believes is needed to regain the public’s confidence in the monarchy.
These measures include attending a public funeral for Diana at Westminster Abbey, flying a Union flag at half-mast over Buckingham Palace (the flag is only meant to be flown when a royal person is present and had never been used for mourning), and speaking to the nation about Diana’s legacy in a live, televised address from the palace.
In one scene, a long table full of officials meet to discuss what form Diana’s funeral will take. The man who calls the meeting says, “I think we all agree that this is an extraordinarily sensitive occasion which presents us with tremendous challenges, logistically, constitutionally, practically, diplomatically, and procedurally.”
The Queen and The Queen Mother are informed that the public funeral will be based on Tambridge, the code name for The Queen Mother’s eventual funeral plans. It’s the only one that had been rehearsed and could be put together within a week’s time. Instead of 400 soldiers, 400 representatives of the Princess’ various charities would march behind the coffin. Instead of foreign heads of state and crown heads of Europe, the guests would include “actors of stage and screen, fashion designers and other celebrities.”
The movie includes footage from the actual funeral, including some shots of those celebrities showing up. The scenes of the acres of floral tributes delivered to Buckingham Palace are astounding.
Whether you are a pauper or a prince or princess, this film shows that a public recognition of loss is needed, especially when the person is highly beloved. It also shows that it takes coordination of many moving parts to create a funeral, big or small. The Queen is a great film to watch to help start a funeral planning conversation.
Gail Rubin, Certified Thanatologist and The Doyenne of Death®, is an award-winning speaker, author, and coordinator of the Before I Die New Mexico Festival (www.BeforeIDieNM.com). She is also a Certified Funeral Celebrant. Her three books on planning ahead for end-of-life issues – A Good Goodbye, Hail and Farewell, and Kicking the Bucket List – are available through Amazon and her website, www.AGoodGoodbye.com.
Academy Guest Blogger
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