A Funeral for a King or Queen

The 2006 film The Queen, starring Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II, brilliantly illustrates the complications of funeral planning for a notable person.

Estate planning clients may not be royalty, but perhaps you treat them like kings and queens. Clients need to consider the implications of not creating their funeral plans. Issues can include how to handle the death of an ex-spouse and conflict over holding a private family affair versus the community’s need to mourn.

After Diana, “The People’s Princess,” dies in a car accident in Paris, The Queen decides the Royal Family should hide their mourning behind the closed doors of Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Her aim is to protect her grandsons, the young princes William and Harry, from the press.

At this point, Diana was divorced from Prince Charles for a year. This put the Royal Family in uncharted territory for holding a funeral for an ex-Royal.

The Queen views the funeral arrangements as a “private affair” best left to the princess’ own family, the Spencers. However, with the public’s overwhelming reaction, the Queen’s inclination to hold a private family funeral with a “stiff upper lip” may not be the best way to mourn.

The heartbroken public doesn’t understand the Royals’ aloofness. In the days following Princess Diana’s death, millions of British people in London erupted in an outpouring of grief, crowding around Buckingham and Kensington palaces to leave floral tributes and notes. Mourners flocked to sign the dozens of condolence books set out in London and at U.K. embassies around the world. The press went wild with demands that The Queen comfort her people, and when there was no response, started calling for an end to the monarchy.

The newly-elected Prime Minister Tony Blair and The Queen negotiate throughout the film to reach a compromise between private family mourning and the public’s demand for an overt display. After days of building pressure, Blair calls The Queen at Balmoral and urgently recommends a course of action he believes is needed to regain the public’s confidence in the monarchy.

These measures include attending a public funeral for Diana at Westminster Abbey, flying a Union flag at half mast over Buckingham Palace (the flag was only flown when royalty was in residence and had never been used as a sign of mourning), and speaking to the nation about Diana’s legacy in a live, televised address from the palace.

In one scene, officials gather around a long table to discuss what form Diana’s funeral will take. The man who calls the meeting says, “I think we all agree that this is an extraordinarily sensitive occasion which presents us with tremendous challenges, logistically, constitutionally, practically, diplomatically, and procedurally.”

The Queen and The Queen Mother are informed that the public funeral will be based on “Tambridge,” the code name for The Queen Mother’s eventual funeral plans. It’s the only one that has been rehearsed and could be put together within a week’s time. Instead of 400 soldiers, 400 representatives of the Princess’ various charities would march behind the coffin. Instead of foreign heads of state and crown heads of Europe, the guests would include “actors of stage and screen, fashion designers and other celebrities.”

This film shows the coordination needed to create a funeral for a notable person. It also shows that a public recognition of loss is needed, especially when the person is highly beloved. The Queen is an entertaining way to start the funeral planning conversation.