August 26, 2019  (Web Review)

Margaret: The Rebel Princess

(2019) 120 min. DVD: $24.99 ($54.99 w/PPR). PBS Video. SDH captioned. ISBN: 978-1-5317-0911-2.

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

A younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret (1930-2002) was a study in contrasts. Close to her sister, she was thrust into the spotlight when their father George VI became king after the 1936 abdication of his brother, Edward VIII. Margaret led a life of privilege, yet was left wondering what her role would be. Filmmaker Hannah Berryman’s PBS-aired documentary depicts a rebellious woman who was rather lacking in education and was easily bored while performing her royal routines (although still insisting that deference be shown due to her royal status). The goal of the royals was to project a “calculated aloofness,” and royal daughters were expected to marry the right type of man (young men with titles). Margaret sought escape from post-WWII austerity and conformity by night-clubbing, seizing an early chance at love with Battle of Britain air hero Peter Townsend. The affair was doomed because he was 17 years older—as well as married with children. She eventually wed famed photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, but in time he balked at the royal restrictions, didn’t want to lose his identity, and was a notorious womanizer. The couple began to lead separate lives, with Margaret embracing London’s Swinging Sixties bohemian scene, yet remaining self-centered and uncompromising. She tried to flee the growing trend of celebrity journalism, seeking safe haven on a Caribbean island, and cavorting with the likes of actor Peter Sellers and—much to the dismay of Buckingham Palace—younger, inappropriate “boy toys.” An increasingly aimless existence, paired with a lifetime of heavy smoking and drinking, ultimately led to a series of strokes and death. Berryman combines archival audiotaped interviews with Margaret and insights from friends to depict an independent if not always admirable woman who lived life on her own terms. Anglophiles will appreciate this portrait of a now rarely mentioned royal. Recommended. Aud: P. (S. Rees)