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Royal Biographies – Fact and Film

After decades of he said/she said royal biographies, William Shawcross has made an interesting addition with Queen Elizabeth: The Queen Mother: the official biography. This very large book 900+ pages) received royal authorization and is considered to be the definitive biography. She had the unique experience of being born at the very beginning of the twentieth century and seeing it through with good health until the end. By far the best part of the book is her early life. She is depicted as being a delightful child who was privileged to lead a life of Edwardian gentility. Her romance with "Bertie" had its ups and downs and she refused him several times before they began their life and their family together. All of this changed, of course, with the abdication of Edward VIII. Elizabeth and, now, George VI were thrown into an even more public life and they were to prove their mettle in World War II. Following the early death of George VI, she continued to play a public role, but not longer as "The Queen".

Bear in mind that this is an authorized biography. Queen Elizabeth is portrayed as unfailingly fair, kind, graceful, dedicated and charming. No one can be all these things all the time. There are hints of enemies and rivalries. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor do not come off very well. In the interests of protecting her husband, she would not receive them in her lifetime. They blamed her for the estrangement with his family and referred to her, cheekily, as "Cookie". Perhaps there is more to be gleaned here in The Duchess of Windsor: the secret life by Charles Higham and Wallis and Edward.
Princess Margaret is portrayed gently, but the implication is that she had a sullen streak and was less accepting of her royal duties. In film (The Queen’s Sister) she is portrayed as a wild child and a member of the jet set. I found it interesting that Princess Diana was only mentioned briefly. Shawcross wrote that Queen Elizabeth, like all members of the royal family, welcomed her and tried to show her the ropes. Then she did the unforgivable. She talked. The Queen
starring Helen Mirren has gives a glimpse at the royal family in the days after Princess Diana’s death.

George VI touchingly referred to time with his family as "We four". In a similar vein his great-great grandparents, Victoria and Albert, referred to their rare private time as "We Two". A recent biography took this as its title – We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gilliam Gill. Covering a similar time period as the recently released The Young Victoria, We Two covers Queen Victoria’s youth and marriage. Their marriage was revealed to be not the perfect, blessed union Victoria would have the world believe, but rather a struggle between two strong-minded individuals. This was a time when royal marriages were an industry and Albert was groomed from an early age into a chaste morally upright individual. His intelligence made it difficult for him to accept a lesser role to his wife and he gradually assumed more power.

Victoria’s granddaughters Alix and Elisabeth married into the Romanov family and their fates have become infamous. (Consider Fall of Eagles and Flight of the Romanovs: A Family Saga by John Curtis Perry) Nicholas and Alexandra were not strong leaders. Alix, of German descent, was thought to be collaborating with the Germans in World War I. Nicholas traveled to the Front in 1915 and left her in charge. Alix had no skills to cope with such responsibility and was under the influence of the notorious Rasputin. Conditions worsened for the Russians which eventually led to revolution, imprisonment of the family and their ultimate execution. For many years rumours abounded that two of the children may have lived. This eventuality has been the subject of many novels and films. This was disproven in recent years using DNA from Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh (Alix and Elisabeth’s great nephew).
Speaking of Prince Philip, his mother, Princess Alice (great granddaughter of Queen Victoria) although not yet the subject of a movie (that I know of) had a life worthy of capturing on film. Alice: Princess Andrew of Greece by Hugo Vickers is a fascinating look at her life. She was born to the Battenberg (now Mountbatten) family in Windsor Castle. Although she was born deaf, she learned to lip read and could speak English and German and later in life learned French and Greek. She married Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark. Alice was greatly influenced by her Aunt Elisabeth’s (Romanov) charitable and religious work, and she, herself, organized and worked at field hospitals during the Balkan Wars. In the 1920’s they were banished from Greece and settled in Paris. Her deeply religious nature began to take over and she claimed she was receiving divine messages and was eventually diagnosed with a psychiatric illness. She was estranged from her family for a time, but recovered and spent the rest of her life devoted to her religious interests including founding a nursing order of Greek Orthodox Nuns. She was honoured after her death for hiding and saving a Jewish family.

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