LONDON -- Once again, here is the story of the vain, love-struck king, who gave up his throne for the plain-looking, twice-divorced woman from Baltimore.
The saga of King Edward VIII and Wallis Warfield Simpson has been written, filmed and acted nearly every way possible over almost 60 years. But yesterday, the royal love story of the century was told with a twist when Prince Edward -- Edward VIII's grand-nephew -- unveiled his own take on the couple's love during a media screening of a two-part television documentary.
While "Edward on Edward," doesn't break new ground on the abdication of Edward VIII in December, 1936, it does mark a milestone. This is the first time that so senior a member of Britain's royal family has dealt publicly with one of the nadirs of Windsor history.
Prince Edward, youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II , narrated and wrote the documentary, which will air here later this month. Producers say the program will be rebroadcast in the United States in August by PBS.
In a press release, Prince Edward said that if he bumped into the duke he would "like him."
As for the duchess: "She was a much more difficult character to understand or get close to. Perhaps contrary to expectations, she seems to be a much more reserved and secretive person. Then again, she might have been a bit superficial -- fun, quick-witted, gossipy, with no real personality."
The documentary deals with the 1936 abdication crisis, when Edward VIII was forced to give up the English throne so that he could marry the woman he loved. It also tackles allegations that Edward VIII, who became the Duke of Windsor, was sympathetic to Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime.
"The duke may have been awkward, selfish and intransigent to deal with, but there's no evidence that he would ever betray his country," Prince Edward said in the documentary.
Prince Edward provides an often compelling narrative of the life and times of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Theirs was a jet-set exile of jewels, furs and parties from Paris to New York to Palm Beach. Friends, courtiers and servants describe a "tragic" relationship as the duke dealt with the impact of relinquishing the throne. He apparently schemed for years to get a suitable royal job and was said to be devastated when his wife was denied the title of her royal highness.
The documentary's most telling moment actually comes from a clip of an interview the couple gave to Edward R. Murrow of CBS-TV in the 1950s. Murrow asked the duke and duchess if they had any regrets
The duchess seemed surprised by the question. She leaned over as if hit in the stomach and had a pained expression on her face, while the duke stammered before saying he had no regrets.
The documentary deals with the couple's quirks. They dressed formally for every dinner, even if there were no guests. The duke would often lapse into speaking German with stunned Jewish friends. The duchess had a notorious friendship with New York ** gossip-hound Jimmy Donahue, who apparently boasted they were having an affair.
Prince Edward also steps gingerly into the affect the abdication had on family relations. The duke's family refused to attend his 1937 wedding. He was not told of the unveiling of a tomb for his father, George V. There were squabbles about money between the duke and his brother, George VI.
The documentary skips a long-held assertion that Queen Elizabeth, now the Queen Mother, blamed the duke for the early death of her husband, George VI, who became king after Edward abdicated. George VI, who was withdrawn, stammered, and had no training to become king, was left to be monarch in Britain's most difficult times, including World War II and the aftermath. But Prince Edward said yesterday that his grandmother harbors no ill feelings toward the duke.
"There are all sorts of stories in the public domain involving the Queen Mother which I believe are actually fatally inaccurate," he said. "She, like every other royal lady in the household at the time was put in an utterly impossible position by Edward's decision to marry a divorcee.
"They were never going to be able publicly to acknowledge her in any way," he continued. "The inevitable gulf that occurred has been interpreted by people to say it was a deep-seated and personal matter, which, for all that I have discovered, just isn't the case."
Prince Edward said he did not interview senior members of the royal family but they had seen the film. He declined to give their reactions.
Andrew Roberts, a British historian and journalist, said Prince Andrew has shaped a documentary that will receive his grandmother's approval. "He has taken his grandmother's view, 100 percent, almost without question," Mr. Roberts said. "I think that is unfair. The fact is the time has come for the British establishment to stop blaming this woman (the duchess) for all the bad things that have happened."
But Mr. Roberts added the documentary was "good TV."
Pub Date: 4/13/96