January 14, 2007

the queen's corgis, revisited

Last night I finally saw the movie "The Queen", directed by Stephen Frears and starring the marvelous Helen Mirren, who seems to be the natural choice when it comes to portraying queens named Elizabeth. The movie is justly raved about and I'm sure Helen Mirren will be nominated for an Academy Award.


The use of animals in the movie is quite remarkable, mainly through the metaphor of stalking. It's hunting (stalking) season at Balmoral, where the members of the Royal Family spend their summer vacation. While the Royals are stalking a majestic stag (which eventually is killed in an amateurish way on the estate of a neighbor by a paying visitor), a former member of the Royal Family, the Princess of Wales, is shown being stalked by the press in Paris, where she later dies after a car crash. In the movie, the Queen pays her respects to the dead animal (the visit is framed as a congratulatory visit to the person who killed it) before she sets off to London to pay her respects to the deceased "People's Princess", a public gesture she is pressured into by Tony Blair.

The verb to stalk originally meant "to walk softly, cautiously, or stealthily", it then acquired the meaning "to go stealthily to, towards (an animal) for the purpose of killing or capturing it". An OED draft addition from 2006 records the more recent use of the verb "to harass or persecute (a person, esp. a public figure) with unwanted, obsessive, and usually threatening attention over an extended period of time".

Apart from the stag, there's a pack of adorable, remarkably well-trained Corgis* (one "Stay!" from the Queen keeps them away from a picnic table, at least for a minute), symbolizing the lighter side of royal life and the Queen's character. (Someone who adores Corgis, of all dogs, -- in a dignified, non-fussy way -- cannot have a heart of stone, right?).**

Then there are three*** beautiful black labradors that the Queen takes out in her Range Rover when she and Prince Charles are on the way to join the stalking party. The Queen is annoyed at her son's lecture on how great Diana was as a mother and decides that she'd rather be alone for the next couple of hours. She gets off the car with the dogs and disappears into the woods with them. The message is that she prefers their happy-go-lucky company to that of her dysfunctional family. (Who wouldn't?) The Queen is famous for her love of Corgis, but she also breeds black labradors at Sandringham. I blogged about this here.

Thankfully, there were no horses.

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*C.L.B. Hubbard, author of the Pembrokeshire Corgi Handbook (1952), would be indignated by this plural form. He states "The plural of Corgi is Corgwn and not Corgis." (OED) I suppose it is -- if you speak Welsh (the etymology of "Corgi" is Welsh, it combines the Welsh words for "dwarf" and "dog"), but it has become a thoroughly English word.

**According to Wikipedia, the dogs in the movie are played by Corgis called Anna, Poppy, Alice, Megan, and Oliver, owned by Liz Smith.

***When the Queen gets into the car, there are only two labradors, and when she gets out, there are three. Miraculous! It seems that I'm not the only person who noticed this continuity error.

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