The British had experienced rationing before, but this time around was especially grim; it wasn’t until 1954 that the last of the rations were finally lifted. Restricted items included gasoline, sugar, and meat.
Even clothing was rationed by using a points system. “The number of points that each piece of clothing would be valued at was determined by not only how much labor went into making it, but also how much material was used,” says Wikipedia. “A dress could run someone 11 coupons, whereas a pair of stockings only cost two.”¹
Clothing rationing became so severe that one coat cost almost a whole year’s worth of rations.²
Princess Elizabeth herself was not exempt from this business of austerity. Although she was granted an extra 200 coupons for her wedding, she had to pay for the material in her wedding gown with ration coupons.³
Her wedding was The Event of 1947. A thoroughly-spent Britain was still reeling from the devastating effects of the war: Why did victory feel so much like defeat?
The wedding became a symbol of a longed-for Brighter Future, and folks were eager to buy into it. People sent precious ration coupons to Buckingham Palace to help pay for the wedding, but these were returned to their owners. Transferring coupons was illegal.
It was a time of mixed grief and hope, and was, surprisingly, captured in the Hollywood musical, Royal Wedding (1951).
Fred Astaire and Jane Powell star as Broadway celebrities – and siblings – who travel to London to perform for the royal wedding celebrations. En route to England, Powell meets a handsome lord (Peter Lawford), who proves to be Very Distracting, while Astaire does little else but rehearse and create new dance routines.
If you’re thinking the plot bears a Faint Resemblance to Astaire’s pre-Hollywood career, you’d be right. For example, Astaire and Powell perform for fellow passengers on the ship at the captain’s request. A ferocious storm arises, but the siblings, being the Professionals they are, continue their performance despite the furniture sliding around them. The scene is, apparently, based on a voyage the real Astaire siblings experienced in the 1920s.
When they arrive in London, our glam Americans take the British as they find them. Astaire meets a beautiful Londoner (Sarah Churchill, of the Churchills) and her pubkeeper father (Albert Sharpe). Sharpe hates all Americans due to G.I.s Skipping Out on their drink bills; Astaire promptly settles the tab to restore Anglo-American relations.
In this film, Churchill and Sharpe represent the average Londoner. Beneath his crusty exterior, Sharpe is a warmhearted fellow, a man who takes the trouble to send a gift to the royal couple, even though he ain’t exactly Rolling In Dough. As it turns out, anyone who sends a gift is invited to the palace to view the Wedding Loot, and Sharpe dons his finest for the occasion. The royal wedding means that much to him.
As for Churchill, she’s a beautiful, accomplished woman with practical, durable clothes. (She’ll not spend her ration coupons foolishly!) Compare her post-war wardrobe to Powell’s attire:
Now, you may be wondering why a film about a 1947 wedding was released as late as 1951. This was due, in part, to changes of directors and leading women. According to IMDb, actress June Allyson was originally cast in Powell’s role, but she withdrew when she found out she was pregnant. Judy Garland was then hired, a move that caused the original director to quit. A new director, Stanley Donen, was signed, but Garland was eventually fired for absenteeism. The role of Astaire’s sister finally went to Powell.4
As far as plots go, this film is rather thin, but it has innovative numbers, such as the famous scene where Fred Astaire dances on the ceiling.
Royal Wedding is more than an entertaining, feel-good film. It has wonderful music*, amusing lines, and a charming cast.
It’s also a tribute to post-war civilians who struggled with a costly military victory, but still embraced a young princess and her wedding.
This post is part of The WEDDING BELLS Blogathon, hosted by Hometowns to Hollywood.
Royal Wedding: starring Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, Peter Lawford. Directed by Stanley Donen. Written by Alan J. Lerner. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1951, Technicolor, 93 mins.
¹Wikipedia. (Retrieved January 22, 2020.) Rationing in the United Kingdom.
³Town & Country. (Retrieved January 22, 2020.) The True Story of Queen Elizabeth’s Wedding Dress, by Caroline Hallemann.
4IMDb. (Retrieved January 22, 2020.) Royal Wedding (1951).
*Royal Wedding was nominated for an Oscar: Best Music, Original Song.