The stormy relationship between the late Queen Elizabeth (affectionately known as the Queen Mum) and the woman who rocked the British monarchy, Wallis Simpson, is coming to TV.
In an exclusive clip from the new PBS show Royal Wives At War, the steely Queen Mum (Emma Davies) is seen sipping a drink while remarking that she would have died if she had to live in exile like Simpson (Gina McKee).
“If you cut me open, you would find one word: duty,” Elizabeth declares.
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Edward VIII famously gave up the throne in 1936 in order to marry Simpson, a divorced American. His abdication thrust his brother, who would become King George VI, onto the throne – making Elizabeth the Queen and setting the stage for the couple’s firstborn daughter, the then-Princess Elizabeth, to occupy her current historic reign.
The PBS show combines reconstructions, archival clips and the recollections of acquaintances and biographers to tell the story. The remarkable wardrobe reconstructions were executed by costume designer Joanna Beatty.
The two women’s styles matched their personalities, says Beatty: They were “exact polar opposites of each other.”
Although Simpson is often seen to have had a style that’s “tailored, very masculine and sharp,” it might be a “cliché,” says Beatty, noting that her research found that as a young woman Simpson favored “prints and frills.”
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For a scene showing the royals at an unveiling of a plaque in 1967, Beatty was tasked with recreating the Queen Mother’s lilac coat, complete with latticework at the sleeve hem, her hat and brooch. “The trick of the Queen Mother is to draw the eye away from her rather dumpy figure and have all these interesting details,” she explains.
Royal Wives At War airs Sunday on PBS at 8 p.m. ET.