It’s good to be the Queen. Or so they say. Beatrix, former Queen of the Netherlands, didn’t have it easy, accoutrements of royalty aside. And the true story of her life is the focus of Beatrix, Orange Under Fire, the second half of the Dutch drama Crowns & Jewels.
The first miniseries that makes up Crowns & Jewels, Bernhard, Scoundrel of Orange, centers on the life of Beatrix’s father, Prince Bernhard, from his days before his marriage to her mother Juliana, to his death in 2004.
The second, Beatrix, Orange Under Fire (Beatrix, Oranje Onder Vuur), doesn’t pick up where Bernhard left off. Rather, it begins several years later and, as with the structure of Bernhard, alternates between Beatrix’s past and present to chronicle the true story of the life of the woman who was born a Crown Princess and reigned as Queen of the Netherlands for more than 30 years before abdicating the throne in 2013.
With the alternating time lines in Beatrix, different actors play the same person, including:
- Beatrix — Willeke van Ammelrooy (older Queen), Mara van Vlijmen (younger Princess/Queen)
- Willem-Alexander, son of Beatrix, heir to the throne — Bastiaan Ragas
- Máxima, wife of Willem-Alexander — Katja Herbers
- Claus von Amsberg, Beatrix’s husband — Peter Oosthoek (older), Ian Bok (younger)
- Bernhard, Beatrix’s father — Thom Hoffman (younger), Eric Schneider (older)
- Juliana, Beatrix’s mother — Antoinette Jelgersma (younger), Ellen Vogel (older)
Beatrix, Orange Under Fire opens with the (failed) attack on the Dutch Royal Family on 30 April 2009, during the Queen’s Day parade. Less horrific is the Netherlands national holiday in 1961, when Princess Beatrix sneaks away for a rendezvous. That romance fails, but one that lasts is with Claus, a diplomat she meets in 1962. His German background proves politically problematic, as does Bernhard’s bribe scandal in 1976. To prevent a downfall of the monarchy, Beatrix must ascend the throne, despite her misgivings, because “An Orange does not run away.”
In 1997 Juliana is suffering from dementia and Claus is ill and frail, but Queen Beatrix is busy as ever, meeting with the Clintons, dismissing her son’s girlfriend, and determining if Willem-Alexander is willing and able to take the throne. But by 1999, with the upcoming elections, her son’s falling in love with Máxima, and his refusal to be as rigid in the role of monarch as his mother, Beatrix sees no choice but to continue her reign indefinitely.
Two generations of the Royal Family are mirrored and under scrutiny in the second episode. In 2000 the investigation into Máxima’s background reveals damaging information about her father, which could prevent her marrying Willem-Alexander. Claus’ membership in the Nazi party during World War II becomes a point of contention with the Dutch Parliament and people in 1965, putting the future marriage of Beatrix and Claus in jeopardy.
Political maneuvering on Beatrix’s part allows both her son and herself to be married, he in 2002 and she in 1966, but not without heavy costs to Máxima and Claus, as well as Beatrix. The fallout is less severe for her daughter-in-law than for her husband, who grows increasingly frustrated and unhappy and whose health noticeably starts to fail in 1981, a year after Beatrix ascends the throne.
The third episode finds more scandals plaguing the House of Orange and strains in relationships within the Royal Family. Soon after taking the throne in 1980, Beatrix’s responsibilities as a head of state and mother cause conflicts with Claus, as they do with Willem-Alexander following the 2009 attack, when she decides yet again not to abdicate.
The deaths of Claus in 2002 and Bernhard in 2004 bring half-sister Alicia back into Beatrix’s life, and the years in between aren’t easy, either. Beatrix’s Cabinet resigns, and two family scandals in 2003 — the “Margarita Affair” involving Beatrix’s niece, reminiscent of the one her sister Irene caused in 1964, and the other involving her son Friso and his fiancée Mabel — prompt the Dutch Parliament to take drastic measures with Beatrix’s Cabinet and the Dutch people to wonder about the Queen’s ability to lead the country.
The series concludes with the lead-ups to Beatrix’s ascension to the throne of the Netherlands on 30 April 1980 and her abdication of it on the same day 33 years later.
Beatrix’s reign and seeming lack of desire to let go of the kingship were informed by her sense of God-given duty, and two other things she learned from Queens Wilhelmina and Juliana that echoed in Beatrix’s mind for decades: Living beside the throne isn’t easy, and the kingship isn’t something you want to pass on to your children. Beatrix also had a very personal reason for holding on to the throne for so long, something she doesn’t admit until letting go is all that’s left for her to do.
Both Bernhard, Scoundrel of Orange and Beatrix, Orange Under Fire are intriguing and engaging and fabulous for giving viewers an inside look at the House of Orange. Where they differ, aside from focus, is in tone; the former is lighter, and the latter more serious in its showing of how being Queen isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
(You should also know that in Beatrix there are certain references to scenes in Bernhard, i.e. “shaken not stirred,” that only make sense in context, so it’s best to watch Crowns & Jewels in order.)
But the sobriety of Beatrix is often offset by the soundtrack, with its theme song of “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by The Byrds, and tunes from Elvis Presley, Van Halen, Chris Isaak, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Ben E. King, and The Mamas & the Papas.
Shown in Dutch and German with English (or other) subtitles, Beatrix, Orange Under Fire is well worth a watch for Euro TV fans and non. It is exclusive to Eurochannel and streaming worldwide at the Eurochannel website and the company’s Dailymotion channel.