' ' Cinema Romantico: In Memoriam: Jeannette Charles

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

In Memoriam: Jeannette Charles

We originally published this post on September 20th, 2022 in the wake of Queen Elizabeth II’s death at the age of 96. We republish it today to memorialize the British actress Jeannette Charles who died on June 2nd. She was also 96, one of those little ostensible coincidences that make me believe in a higher power more than any academic study of the divine.

Britain’s longest serving Monarch Queen Elizabeth II (Elizabeth Alexandra Mary) died last Thursday September 20th, 2022 at the age of 96 and was laid to rest yesterday in Windsor Castle. The state funeral at Westminster Abbey was as ornate as a title like Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith would lead you to expect, right down to Lord Chamberlain’s wand. Indeed, while I’m sure there was a real person in there, somewhere, behind Heading up the Commonwealth and Defending the Faith, Her Majesty The Queen was a symbol, first and foremost. “The institution of hereditary kingship is irrational and impractical,” Rebecca Mead made clear in The New Yorker, “sustained in the present era only through a willful combination of public pageantry and concealed mystery.” It’s why even if Claire Foy and Olivia Colman both won Emmys for playing the Queen and even if Helen Mirren won an Oscar for playing “The Queen” too, the most indelible portrayal of Her Majesty remains, of course, as everyone knows, Jeannette Charles in “The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!” 

Her role, really, is to be the butt of the joke, over and over, laying siege to her indispensable courtliness, but I don’t mean this as an insult to the Britons. Why the scene in which she winds up, uh, under Lt. Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) on the banquet table just goes to show why Elizabeth wanted to not televise her 1953 coronation in the first place...who knew what could go wrong?! More than that, though, by not really having a role beyond The Queen Becomes Victim Of Hijinks, she remains a mystery while being shuffled through an array of ridiculous Yank-styled pageantry, all of which Charles, who made a career out of her resemblance to Elizabeth II, plays with a proper Buster Keaton-ish stone face. I mean, the scene in the Abbey in Season 1 of “The Crown” when Foy and Matt Smith as Philip spar over Phil’s having to kneel is all well and good when it comes to demonstrating the weight of the Royal image, but nothing cuts to the heart of the all-important and endless Royal ceremoniousness tedium than Charles in “The Naked Gun” being handed a hot dog at Angel Stadium in the ballpark frank version of a bucket brigade, matter-of-factly regarding it as the Queen might have some commemorative Fountain of Youth dish towels bestowed upon her by the Mayor of St. Augustine, Florida, and just sending the damn thing on down the line. 

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