• Gerry

A French take on the coronation ...

Alan tells us about the enterprising French ...

We have come to think that fake news is something new, and certainly not what is expected on TV. In a sense, though, it’s really rather ‘old hat’. Back in 1902, film makers wanted to cover the coronation of King Edward VII, but were not allowed into Westminster Abbey with all their noisy equipment.

Not to be thwarted, the French producer, Charles Urban, and director Georges Méliès, decided to fake it. The film, staged outdoors on a painted set, was planned to be as realistic a reproduction as possible of the actual coronation.

Urban obtained various advance details of the coronation plans, while Méliès, at his French studio, cast his actors based on their resemblances to the real-life dignitaries at the ceremony. The king himself was played by no less that a lavatory attendant who, at a distance, was a very convincing look-alike. At one point, Méliès wanted the film to include a vision of the recently-deceased Queen Victoria. Fortunately, Urban dismissed the idea. Some shots of carriages arriving and leaving the abbey were later added, to enhance the reality.

A French journalist commented;

Honourable Englishmen, they're fooling you! …

Of course you will be shown something, but it will be—we need the right word—a put-on, a bluff, amateur theatrics. The Edward VII they'll show you solemnly on his throne, the Queen Alexandra, gracious and sober who will take her place at his side, will be walk-on players crowned at Montreuil, in a fake hall, decorated with painted canvas and furnished with cardboard armchairs! The six-minute film was completed in good time for the coronation but, as Edward fell ill with appendicitis, both the coronation and the release of the fake film were postponed for six weeks. The fake version premiered on Coronation Day and was deemed to be a great success. There was, inevitably, some criticism about the fakery, but the King was said to be delighted with it. If only they’d had blue-screen, or CGI back then.

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