How Princess Anne escaped a kidnapping at gunpoint with a backward somersault. Yes, she’s all kinds of awesome

“Not bloody likely”

She’s the feistiest, no-nonsense Royal offspring in The Crown yet she’s even tougher in real life – as she proved by thwarting a terrifying kidnap attempt by a gunman who shot and injured two police officers, her chauffeur and a journalist while trying to drag her from her car

Words Michelle Davies

The would-be abductor struck as Anne, then 24, was being driven along the Mall towards Buckingham Palace on March 20, 1974 with her first husband, Captain Mark Phillips, who’d she married the year previously. Suddenly a Ford Escort cut in front of them, forcing them to stop, and a man later identified as Ian Ball got out to confront the princess in the back seat. He was armed with two guns, yelling ‘open or I’ll shoot!’and was determined to capture Anne.

‘He opened the door and said I had to go with him and I said I didn’t think I wanted to go,’ Princess Anne recalled some years later, during an appearance on the TV talk show, Parkinson. ‘We had a fairly low-key discussion about the fact that I wasn’t going to go anywhere, and wouldn’t it be much better if he went away and we’d all forget about it.’ She was actually being restrained in her retelling, however, because according to witnesses at the scene, what the princess actually retorted to Ball was ‘not bloody likely’.

Ball, however, was undeterred. He’d spent two years planning the kidnap, even renting a house in Fleet, Hampshire, not far from where Anne and Mark lived at the time. On his person was a long, rambling ransom letter addressed to the Queen; he wanted the monarch to pay £3 million to the NHS to improve the care and treatment of psychiatric patients – of which he was one. He’d targeted her daughter because, at the time, Anne had celebrity status in Britain after being named the BBC’s Sports Personality Of The Year in 1971 for winning the European Eventing Championship at the age of 21. Of all the Royal children to kidnap, she was the biggest prize.

The great escape

But Ball, 26, hadn’t banked on Anne’s stubbornness. She refused to get out of the car even after those trying to protect her were shot, including her personal police officer, Inspector James Beaton. Ball then tried to yank her from her seat and in the struggle her dress was ripped down the back. ‘I lost my rag at that stage,’ she recalled. ‘He started pulling my arm and Mark was holding onto me and we maintained the status quo for quite a bit, because I wasn’t going anywhere, put it that way.’ Her husband later admitted he felt powerless having seen the others wounded. ‘I was frightened, I don’t mind admitting it,’ he said. Continue reading

Ophelia review – tragic no longer

Ophelia is one of Shakespeare’s most iconic yet underdeveloped dramatic roles. A sweet and naïve girl, she’s driven mad by Hamlet’s wavering affections and her father’s death. She was often the subject of paintings, yet rarely of novels until the 21st century. Ophelia, starring Daisy Ridley, is an adaptation of Lisa Klein’s 2006 book of the same name, and does a valiant job at not only filling in the blanks but bringing some flair of its own.Ophelia is a precocious child of the Danish court, handpicked by Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts) to join her ladies-in-waiting. She soon becomes the Queen’s confidant, reading her stories and fulfilling errands. This access lends her privy to the royal family’s failing marriage and the machinations of the King’s brother, Claudius (Clive Owen). When Prince Hamlet (George MacKay) returns from university, she becomes entwined in the rise and fall of a dynasty.

Ophelia has a tough act balancing loyalty to the source material and finding its own rhythm. Key to what works is Daisy Ridley, who brings guile and fidelity to Ophelia without ever betraying the original role. She undoubtably looks the part, immediately bringing to mind John Everett Millais’s masterpiece (which is referenced in the cinematography), but adds an agency that’s sorely lacking in the play.

Semi Chellas’s script does a good job at expanding the women’s roles. Pivotal moments from Hamlet, such as the Queen’s remarriage or Ophelia’s mad singing, are no longer mysteries of the woman’s mind but logical steps to advance in a man’s world. Ophelia sees the folly in the men’s violent distractions, while the Queen numbs herself to them. In the end, they both reap what they sow.

Not everything works so well. It’s rather apt that Ridley stars, as at times it feels like watching one of Disney’s Star Wars films, shoehorning Shakespeare references with knowing winks. Some land neatly, such as Naomi Watts playing siblings like Claudius and the King are traditionally cast, and some come screeching in, such as a potion that mimics death. There’s also an attempt to mirror Shakespeare’s language without committing to new prose, which proves distracting.

Daisy Ridley and Naomi Watts in Ophelia

Ironically, at times it feels like the Hamlet scenes are getting in the way of Ophelia’s story, bending it out of shape to fit the pre-existing narrative. Scenes such as “The Mousetrap Play” are admirably staged, but Hamlet’s constant disappearances makes his relationship with Ophelia difficult to invest in. You can’t help but wonder why she doesn’t sack the unstable emo off altogether.

Still, it’s easier to forgive such inconsistencies when the film looks this good. Director Claire McCarthy and cinematographer Denson Baker rinse every drop of beauty from each frame. In an interview with theartsdesk earlier this week, McCarthy revealed the look is a tribute to Pre-Raphaelite art. It’s an apt comparison. Scenes feel tangibly historical but sumptuously composed, creating images that bely the likely small budget.

How well Ophelia works depends on what you’re expecting from it. As a partner piece to Hamlet, it’s an interesting twist on the traditional roles. As a standalone film, it somewhat suffers from its parent script. But particularly strong performances and beautiful imagery make it worth catching.

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