In Ireland we take our funerals much as we take our tea: brisk, chatty and with a minimum of fuss. So there is a degree of culture shock watching Britain grieve for its queen.
That’s especially true of the coverage of the funeral, which, on BBC One and Sky News, unfolds with a solemnity so hushed that every so often you find yourself wondering if you’ve muted the sound by accident. But, no, it’s just the UK muting itself as it says farewell to Queen Elizabeth.
This silence is what you are struck by during coverage of the ceremony at Westminster Abbey and the long procession through London.
The BBC presenters have adopted a funeral whisper. Commentary on the column from Westminster through the British capital is by Huw Edwards, his voice so low it’s hard to make out much of what he is saying
The BBC presenters have adopted a funeral whisper. Commentary on the column from Westminster through the British capital is by Huw Edwards, his voice so low it’s hard to make out much of what he is saying.
Usually, it is the presenter’s job to bring vibrancy to whatever is on screen. Today, Edwards must achieve the opposite, and he pitches in with appropriately soothing bromides. “The wreath itself, containing flowers and foliage from the queen’s garden,” he intones, breaking down the minutiae of one of the funeral flower arrangements.
They’re a bit more audible on Sky, where Anna Botting and Dermot Murnaghan strain for a high-flown style that’s reminiscent of the Elves’ grandiloquent speech in The Lord of the Rings. “The clouds now broken, the warmth on their back,” Botting says as the sun clears. “There have been many stages on this journey for her majesty the queen. This is another.”
RTÉ covers the funeral ceremony at Westminster, which features a homily from the archbishop of Canterbury. “We pray today for all her family — grieving as so many families at a funeral.” Remove the images on the screen and it could be any parish priest at any Irish funeral.
The national broadcaster makes its excuses shortly afterwards and goes back to daytime soaps. There is none of that on the BBC, where the funeral procession — 2km long — is covered from start to finish.
Amid the pomp and grief, every so often a detail catches the eye. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police at the head of the cortege. Prince Andrew flanked by people in uniform, so that it looks as if he’s under house arrest. Actually, it’s his siblings, in their military regalia
The funeral of Britain’s longest-serving monarch is a historic event, but it’s not the kind of history to stir the blood or have us on the edge of our seats. This is meditative and austere — hypersober slow TV.
Amid the pomp and grief, every so often a detail catches the eye. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police at the head of the cortege. Prince Andrew flanked by people in uniform, so that it looks as if he’s under house arrest. (Actually, it’s his siblings, in their military regalia.) And, through it all, a sense of genuine sadness comes pulsating through the screen.
After the coffin’s procession through London on the state gun carriage, the final leg of the queen’s journey to Windsor Castle is by hearse. As the pace picks up, so does the coverage. The BBC doesn’t quite let its hair down, but Kirsty Young is allowed to break the solemnity and strike up a note of vague chattiness.
David Dimbleby, for his part, explains the significance of Windsor’s Sebastopol Bell, seized in the Crimean War and chimed only at times of national significance.
For the Irish viewer, the Crimean War anecdote perhaps confirms that, although there is sadness here at the queen’s passing, and while Ireland and the UK will always have a certain amount in common, on days such as this the gulf between the countries feels wider and deeper than usual.