Monday, January 30, 2012

Léopold III: mon père

Léopold III, mon père, directed by Nicolas Delvaulx, is a moving RBTF documentary, available for sale on DVD. Princess Esmeralda, the King's youngest daughter, contributes richly to the film with her insights into her father's humanity. For the first time, she also discusses at length the fateful, heart-wrenching decision that fell to his lot, as to whether he should remain in Belgium to assist his people during the Nazi occupation or escape into exile with his government before being forced to surrender to the Germans.

In Esmeralda's company, we visit important places in Leopold's life, such as Eton, where he studied as a youth, suffering from the separation from his parents, King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth, during World War I. We travel to the castle of Hirschstein, on the Elbe, where he was held hostage with his family under harsh conditions from 1944-1945. Born in 1956, Esmeralda was fortunately spared this terrible experience.

On a more cheerful note, there is interesting footage of Leopold's tropical expeditions in his later years, supplemented with images of his collections of zoological specimens gathered from around the globe. We also gain a glimpse of the chalet of Hinteriss, in the Austrian Alps, a family holiday home charmingly decorated by Esmeralda's mother, the King's second wife, Princess Lilian.

Esmeralda's reflections upon her mother's life are quite poignant. As she used to tell her daughter, Lilian had the good fortune to marry the Prince Charming of her dreams. However, her wedding day, which ought to have been the happiest of her life, was actually the saddest, as she had to marry her beloved in secrecy and mourning, in a sombre black dress, in fact. The relentless hatred and opprobrium she faced for the rest of her life rendered her especially sensitive and emotionally vulnerable. She even remarked, with a certain ironic humor, that she was glad she would not be around to see all the brutal articles which would appear in the papers after her death. Also poignant are the interviews with Esmeralda's late brother, Prince Alexandre, who passed away during the production of the film. He comes across as a thoughtful, sensitive person.

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