“Club Paradise” and Monarchy

OK, I know this is a little weird….

Club Paradise was a diverting 1986 light comedy featuring Robin Williams, Peter O’Toole, a Twiggy wondrously evoking Olivia Newton-John, and a cast of thousands.  Williams goes in on a dive Caribbean would-be resort with Jimmy Cliff, who’s a “revolutionary” reggae singer on the side (a stretch, I know), trying to fight-off foreclosure by a crooked island Prime Minister who wants to turn it over to international developers who would build it all up and destroy “paradise.”

Here’s where Tiernan comes in.  When the PM thinks he’s gonna lose the deal, he declares martial law, mobilizes the island’s army, and there’s almost (mini) civil war – provoked by him.  Just as the PM and his forces are about to attack Williams and Cliff and Co. on a beach, here comes a few hundred (that’s all it takes apparently there) of the island’s common people to confront the out-of-control PM, and at their head is the island’s “representative of Her Britannic Majesty,” O’Toole, who rallied them.  O’Toole rides up on horseback in full viceregal regalia, ostrich plume(?!) and all, like something out of Gilbert and Sullivan, hops down, almost literally reads the PM the Riot Act, draws his own pistol, and threatens to blast the corrupt politician right between the eyes.  The PM backs down, especially when Williams draws his attention to his foreign developer-sponsors in their massive yacht sailing off to easier pickings – but O’Toole and the people were the linchpin of the whole scene: the delay they caused allowed the yacht to sail into view on its way … away … taking the wind out of the PM’s sails with it.

Now for housecleaning.  I missed the beginning of the movie when I saw it in rerun a few weeks ago, but this fictitious island of St. Nicholas seems to be an independent nation: the PM refers to “army” or “defence forces” or words to that effect, and they’re Black, not White Brits as one might expect in a movie if it were still being considered an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom (although certainly there are many non-Whites in the UK armed forces today).  So the “Governor” should’ve been titled “Governor-General,” as some U.S. reviews at the time corrected, and certainly all the Canadians involved in its production should’ve known well.*  Also, as a Caribbean Commonwealth Realm even in the 1980s, it probably would’ve had a Black GG, not a White Englishman whom Robin Williams repeatedly addressed as “Your Grace” – a Duke? a Bishop?! although maybe Williams’ character wasn’t expected to know that, as an American, and just made up the honorific.  Also, in a finer technicality, “Her Britannic Majesty” has nothing to do with her non-Britannic Realms; she is sometimes (rarely) referred to as “Her Canadian Majesty,” but in this case, “Her Nicolite Majesty” or something like that wouldn’t have meant anything to anybody, since it’s a fake place whose name was probably even forgotten by the original viewers by this point in the film (I only know about it because of the WWW!), nevermind its obscure adjectival form.  Finally, of course, none of HM’s viceregals is authorized to execute her errant Ministers without trial, nevermind personally!

Nevertheless, one Canuck analyst has called the Crown – and by extension, its viceregal representatives – “a constitutional fire-extinguisher,” meant to exercise authority personally in the event of some breakdown in governmental order.  (They could use one in Kenya about now.  As they once had.  Arguably, we could’ve used one before, during, and after the 2000 election, and since then.)  Now, St. Nicholas is also described in the movie as a Third-World country, and many of them have “martial law” provisions, so the Prime Minister might not have been technically breaking the law.  But in movies, for dramatic (or even tragicomic) effect, you can have GGs intervene even when the politician just has a seriously bad idea, like embroiling the nation in a civil war over a corrupt land deal, and when when the GG can rally most of the population in favor of calm and reason also.  Other constitutional alternatives would’ve been the island’s Parliament, or firing the PM, or even (presumably) refusing to sign the Order for Martial Law itself, and dealing with the fallout later.

But none of these would’ve been as much fun to watch!

Anyway, what was visibly dramatized for us was the ability of “symbols” and “figureheads” like The Queen and a Governor-General and a uniform on horseback and a system of tradition, to rally a nation in time of crisis, like chickenhawk W. couldn’t even do on 9/11 quite like “al Qaeda” itself did – even the ability of these things/persons to bring rogue politicians to their senses.

(*–Maybe the Canadians in the movie thought we ignorant Yanks would be confused by a “Governor-General” title, taking the “general” as a military role, undermining the sense of danger and drama from the martial law regime under just the PM.  Although the GG would probably be constituted Commander-in-Chief of the island’s Army in The Queen’s Name anyway – another finer point, one that I find some Canadians who should know better – nevermind actors and comedians – aren’t fully cognizant of.)

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