'Elizabeth: The Unseen Queen' to Premiere as Part of the Jubilee Celebrations

A still from Elizabeth: The Unseen Queen documentary
A still from 'Elizabeth: The Unseen Queen' documentary (BBC)

Queen Elizabeth's platinum jubilee marking 70 years on the throne technically happened on Feb. 6, 2022, but like her April birthday, the national celebration is held in June. The official "Platinum Jubilee Weekend" officially runs from June 2-5 and will start with her usual birthday parade with the 1st Battalion, Irish Guards, and more than 1200 officers and soldiers from the Household Division, all "Trooping the Color." There will be balcony appearances, pageants, flyovers, beacons lit, derbies, rock concerts, etc. There will also be a bunch of television specials released in the lead-up, including the new BBC documentary, Elizabeth: The Unseen Queen, arriving at the end of May.

Elizabeth: The Unseen Queen is not the first documentary to purport to draw back the curtain and show the royal family as it really is. The 1969 BBC documentary, The Royal Family, is famous for having aired precisely once and was then banned for decades because it was deemed too embarrassing by the Palace to show again. (One assumes The Unseen Queen will not be nearly so unseemly.) The film does promise to show things never seen before, including footage from reels that date back to the 1920s that the Palace and Her Majesty provided.

Considering the dates of the footage provided, it's not a surprise that the 75-minute presentation is said to focus on the early part of Elizabeth's life, back before the ubiquity of television. It is apparently pulled from either lost newsreels from the early part of the 20th century or state-sponsored behind-the-scenes footage of significant events that were never aired. Some moments include Prince Philip's 1946 visit to Balmoral Castle, which celebrated their engagement and was his first time seeing the place, and rare footage of King George VI with Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret.

The BBC commissioning editor for history, Simon Young, said the public broadcaster was honored to be allowed to use this footage.

“We are honored that The Queen has entrusted the BBC with such unprecedented access to her personal film collection. This documentary is an extraordinary glimpse into a deeply personal side of the Royal Family that is rarely seen, and it’s wonderful to be able to share it with the nation as we mark her Platinum Jubilee.”

According to the BBC, this is just one of many specials that will be part of the runup to the first weekend in June. There is a baking competition (though not affiliated with GBBO) to make the official jubilee dessert, The Queens Jubilee Pudding: 70 Years in the Baking, airing on Thursday, May 12. May 15 brings The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebration special. May 22 will have an RHS Chelsea Flower Show special. The BBC's popular reality series Bargain Hunt and The Repair Shop will feature special edition episodes of historical items relating to the Queen on June 1. EastEnders will have an episode airing on June 2, where the popular soap shows opera will live through the Jubilee alongside viewers.

Royal-focused specials include The Crown JewelsPlatinum Beacons: Lighting up the Jubilee, and a Songs of Praise Jubilee special. One assumes that is the highbrow answer to the more populist (and popular) Platinum Party at the Palace concert. (The other highbrow event, the Royal Albert Hall: The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee – 70 Years concert, will be a radio broadcast.)

Elizabeth: The Unseen Queen debuts on Sunday, May 29, on the BBC as part of the runup to the Jubilee. BritBox will have the exclusive live stream for the Jubilee celebrations, starting May 15 at 3:30 p.m. ET (12:30 p.m. PT) with The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebration.