I do wish that Channel 5 wouldn’t use such silly titles for their programmes. Princess Alice isn’t a secret at all! There’s been at least one previous documentary about her; there’s an excellent biography of her; she’s featured in dozens of other books and documentaries; and there was a lot of talk about her just two and a half years ago, when Prince William visited her grave during his trip to Jerusalem.
I always find her fascinating – partly because of her bravery in sheltering a Jewish family during the Nazi occupation of Greece, partly because of her Romanov connections, and partly because of the way she overcame severe mental illness and the really horrific “treatment” she was given for it, as well as coping with congenital deafness. I always find the slightly mystical streak running through several members of the Hesse-Darmstadt branch of the family intriguing, as well. I suspect that Prince Charles does too.
This didn’t say anything new, but it was all very interesting. The combination of comments from “experts” and video footage from the time worked very well, although I could have lived without the references to “The Crown”. Channel 5 have shown an awful lot of documentaries about the Windsors this year, and, whilst very watchable, they’ve got a bit samey. This was something different. What a fascinating woman!
As I said, it was nothing new to anyone who’s familiar with Princess Alice’s story, but what an amazing story it was! Her birth in Windsor Castle, and her early years in Britain and Germany … although it didn’t mention her father’s naval career, for some reason. Her marriage to Prince Andrea of Greece, adapting to a new country, her charitable and nursing work in Greece, and all the complexities of the Great War, the murders of her close relatives during the Russian Revolution, the political chopping and changing, the royal family being exiled and then returning, the Greco-Turkish War, and the military disaster which saw Andrea almost executed, and forced into exile.
Then their years in Paris, and Alice’s “religious crisis” and mental ill-health, and being bundled off by force to two sanatoria, where she underwent some really horrific treatment, at the behest of Sigmund Freud. It’s like something from some horrible dystopian film, the idea of exposing someone’s ovaries to strong X-rays. It’s a miracle that she ever recovered mentally from the treatment, never mind her initial illness. And then one of her daughters was killed in a plane crash.
Then, after all that, she refused to leave Occupied Greece for safety in Britain or Sweden or anywhere else, and not only worked with the Red Cross but sheltered three members of a Jewish family in her home, saving their lives. She seemed to be being absorbed back into the British Royal Family at the time of Prince Philip’s wedding to the then Princess Elizabeth, but no, she went back to Greece, founded a nursing order of nuns, turned up at the Queen’s coronation in a nun’s habit, and then stayed on in Greece, despite financial problems, until the monarchy was overthrown again. Then she lived out the rest of her life in Buckingham Palace … and was, eventually, buried on the Mount of Olives.
It’s an incredible story, and this documentary told it very well. Thoroughly enjoyable watching.
And, going back to the irritating references to “The Crown”, maybe documentaries like this will remind people that royal families are actually real people, not soap opera characters. How must Princess Alice have felt when that ridiculous 1950s Hollywood film was made about someone claiming to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia, her teenage cousin who’d been brutally murdered? Even the film version of Downton Abbey gave a very inaccurate impression of the relationship between Princess Mary and the future Earl of Harewood, which I don’t suppose their family were very pleased about. Less soapy stuff, where real people are concerned, and more programmes like this one, please!