ROYAL fans will no doubt have caught last week’s ITV documentary about Prince Charles and his love of art, but
ROYAL fans will no doubt have caught last week’s ITV documentary about Prince Charles and his love of art, but on Monday there is a chance to see the uncut version on the big screen when Royal Paintbox comes to the Regal Picturehouse, followed by a question-and-answer session with the director.
Margy Kinmonth has made many documentaries about famous people over the years, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dawn French, but she said bagging Prince Charles as a subject ranks among her highest achievements.
“I don’t think you can get much better than the heir to the throne,” she told the Standard. “It’s quite astonishing. I have had an amazing insight, and I feel really quite lucky.”
Kinmonth, a Londoner, uncovered a passion for film-making while studying for a fine art degree at Bath Academy of Art. Like many budding film directors, her first job was with a big London advertising agency, where she honed her directorial skills. But she never lost her interest in art itself, and many of her documentaries are about artists, including Looking For Lowry, a biopic about the Lancashire-born painter. In fact, it was during a trip to the Tate Britain to see a watercolour exhibition that she came up with the idea of this latest documentary which explores the artistic talent and endeavours of the Windsors and their ancestors.
“I found Queen Victoria’s paintbox in a glass case and had a lightbulb moment,” she said. “She obviously did lots of painting while she was out of sight of the public. I looked up a bit more and discovered she really had done thousands of paintings in her bereavement, after Prince Albert died.”
She had never met Prince Charles but the idea of making a film with him appealed to her as “great fun” — so she sent him a postcard.
“He wrote to me and invited me to go to tea at St James’s Palace and discuss my ideas,” she said. “It was the most wonderful experience. Before you go, you are sent an official letter on cream note paper properly inviting you. Prince Charles was completely charming from the first moment, and made me feel most welcome.”
They drank tea from china cups and ate... well, she is not allowed to say, and would not be drawn on details, but obviously cucumber sandwiches spring to mind. After the meeting, the prince wrote to her with some ideas, and he was particularly keen that she should explore the work of his paternal great-great-grandfather, Prince Louis Alexander of Battenburg who was, according to Kinmonth, “a great artistic talent”. The prince and the director set to work, and the film took two years to complete.
Watching the trailer for this film, one has the impression that Kinmonth approaches her documentary films with the eye of an artist. Fly-on-the-wall Louis Theroux style this is not — instead there are long, languorous shots of beautiful landscapes and the film flows at a very gentle pace.
Filming took place at various royal residences, including Highgrove, Balmoral, Windsor Castle — and Frogmore House, which Kinmonth was particularly pleased about as this is one of the venues where film-makers are not usually allowed to tread.
The documentary provides a glimpse into the lives of many amateur royal artists — Prince Charles himself and his father the Duke of Edinburgh, for example — but also the only living professional artist from the dynasty, Sarah Armstrong-Jones, daughter of Princess Margaret, who speaks about her work in her first ever interview on film.
Prince Charles also gives an insight into what inspired him to become a painter himself. He recounts how, as a teenager, he suddenly became aware of the great works of art that lined the walls of the various royal residences in which he grew up.
He said: “When you are small, you rush about. You know, pedalling or something up and down the corridors, and you notice nothing. It’s just a background. Suddenly, literally — and I must have been 14 or something — suddenly all the pictures on the walls, the furniture, came into focus. Do you know what I mean? And they had just been blurred sort of backgrounds which were just there. Then suddenly I started looking.”
Other contributors to the film include Countess Mountbatten of Burma, royal biographer Lady Antonia Fraser and Royal Academy of Arts chief executive Charles Saumarez Smith.
But this film is not all about the aristocracy. There is also an insight into the Brix, an after-school club in Brixton for ordinary teenagers who want to learn to draw and paint, under the aegis of the Prince’s Drawing School in Hackney.
Like the prince himself, Kinmonth never misses a chance to look at art — she’s planning to check out the Julian Trevelyan exhibition at Henley’s Bohun Gallery while she’s in town.
lThe full 72-minute version of Royal Paintbox shows at the Regal Picturehouse on Monday, April 29 at 6.30pm followed by a q-and-a session with the director.
Film: A Late Quartet
Director: Yaron Zilberman Starring: Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener, Philip Seymour Hoffman