Considering the obsession with the royal family in last week’s newspapers, it seems appropriate that I’m reviewing this novella. I don’t know what the absolute fascination with the Queen and her offspring is. I’m don’t consider myself ardently anti-royal because I can see some of the benefits of their existence. However, I wouldn’t be sorry if we got rid of them altogether. It’s an outdated institution and they do waste a lot of taxpayers money each year. I know The Crown is trying to make the seem like ordinary human beings but you just need to look at the reaction to Harry and Meghan taking a step back from public life. Given the media response, I can see why they’d want to. The Queen and her family just seem so far removed from the rest of the world. It seems like such an odd dynamic. I realise that they’re meant to be part of our great traditions but do they have to be quite so archaic about it? But I’m digressing. The fact is, there is such a fascination about their lives that people have always used them as a basis for their stories. After all, nobody can really imagine what life as a royal is really like. There will always be a market for books like The Uncommon reader and there will always be writers willing to imagine life behind the scenes at Buckingham Palace.
I did something a little different on Tuesday and reviewed (if you can call it that) the most recent season of The Crown instead of a film. As you know, I like to try and tie my Tuesday review and TBT review together, so I had a couple of choices for what to watch today. It was between this or The Iron Lady. I’ve not actually seen the whole of The Iron Lady because I got bored quite quickly. Also, I remained unconvinced that Phyllida Lloyd should be allowed to direct films. I guess that meant that I should probably have watched Meryl Streep take on the role that Gillian Anderson made unnecessarily sexy in The Crown. However, I really couldn’t face it. So, I went back to this 2006 film that I have seen before. It’s not a personal favourite but I, at least, knew that I could deal with it.
Not long after Donald Trump became President of the United States, there was a massive increase in sales of 1984. The George Orwell dystopia received a boost after Kellyanne Conway uttered the phrase “alternative facts” in a TV interview. Everywhere you looked, people were turning to social media to make sure the world knew that they knew how Orwellian it was. That’s the great thing about social media. Thousands of people are having the same original thought at the same time. Just think about what Orwell would have made of Twitter. But I digress. The point is, it seemed that everyone had suddenly decided that we were living in a time that was just as awful as the one Orwell had imagined. In the same way that people had started to see the world as mimicking Gilead, we were suddenly living in a version of Airstrip One. It’s a fun idea but, let’s be honest, it’s total bollocks.
This is one of those books that everyone seems to have read when they were younger but it passed me by. I don’t know why but I just never read it. I mean it is often referred to as one of the greatest pieces of English literature of recent years. In 2019, BBC News included it in their list of 100 most influential novels. So, there must be plenty of people out there who think it was worth reading. I just never did. Maybe I just didn’t like the idea of reading a boy’s diary? As much as I don’t want to perpetuate the idea of gender stereotypes, I wasn’t exactly interested in what a 13/14-year-old boy had to say. Or maybe it was something about diaries in general? I never wrote a diary when I was younger. I think I was always a bit too embarrassed. It seemed too self-indulgent and pathetic. Why did I think my life was so worthy that it deserved being immortalised in a diary? Part of me is quite sad I never did, especially as my memory is o bad these days. Of course, every time one of my friends tells me about reading their old diaries, I am overjoyed that I never tried. Remembering what I was like as a teenager, I can be assured that it wouldn’t make for an easy read.
There was plenty of controversy surrounding the release of this film. After a mass brawl broke out at a Birmingham cinema, Vue and Showcase cinemas decided to stop showing it. This decision was widely criticised for many reasons and eventually reversed. The decision to pull the film was described as dangerous and racist. Dangerous because the film would be seen as taboo. This would change the way that people engaged with it and the message at its core. At the same time, the decision was viewed as racist. The idea that a film showing gang violence would definitely push young people into mass violence was only strengthening the link between Black communities and uncontrollable violence. Especially as the film wasn’t actually as violent as other entertainment that’s widely available. Whatever the reasoning, it did just look like another attempt to diminish the release of non-white films. Even when they are made, they were being pulled at the slightest provocation. To compare, nothing was pulled from screens when a white dude killed 12 people and injured 70 other when he brought a gun into a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. So, why was this incident so different?
After the travesty of Love Wedding Repeat on Tuesday, I wasn’ quite sure to go with today’s TBT review. In the end, I decided to give Dean Craig a second chance. His Netflix film was his directorial debut, so it’s entirely possible that he just got a bit overexcited. I’d never seen any of his other films. I remember the 2010 remake of this film coming out and having absolutely no interest in seeing it. But would I have an interest in the original? It wouldn’t be the first time America had taken a British concept and destroyed it.
I binged watch the latest season of Glow this weekend. It took me a while to get round to it but I absolutely loved it. It’s such a fun show and is making me believe that, if I worked a bit harder, I could definitely be a wrestler. I couldn’t but it’s nice to dream I guess. But I am in the middle of a bit of a wrestling period at the moment. So, when I realised I wouldn’t get the chance to watch something new for this week’s review, I decided it was finally time to watch this film. I’d tried to see it when it was out at the cinema but we couldn’t find a suitable time I don’t know what we saw instead but it was probably something silly. It was quite possibly Alita: Battle Angel and we all know how that went.
Dear William Shakespeare,
I think the first time I can remember studying you in any depth was in year 8. So I would have been about 12/13 years old if my maths is any good. We were focusing on Macbeth and, in particular, the witches speech. We had to come up with our own version or something. I’m not entirely sure what the point of studying you at that time was but I was definitely drawn in by the whole witch and magic vibe that you were giving off. So, you could say, I’ve loved you from the beginning. And it’s a love that has continued with every new play I have discovered and with every play that I have revisited. With every sonnet I’ve analysed. With every play I’ve watched or film adaptation I’ve seen. I wouldn’t go so far as to compare it to Romeo and Juliet’s because we all know how stupid that whole relationship was but I’d happily compare it to Nerissa and Gratiano (one of the most underappreciated but most adorable romances in your plays).
And I could go on and on about why I loved you and what you mean to me. I could tell you which my favourite plays are. Question why I still find myself having to reassure people who you aren’t too difficult or the language is too hard to understand. I could thank you for the many ways in which you’ve changed our language or our culture. How you’ve remained relevant for such a long time and remain one of the key figures in English literature. I could revisit some of the times I’ve watched you on stage. Name drop Michael Sheen again and talk about how great an experience it was to watch him play Hamlet on stage. How watching Tom Hiddleston play Coriolanus whilst sitting next to a non-Shakespearean friend was both an uplifting and totally anxiety-filled experience. I could go on and on about how wonderful you are. But I won’t.
Instead, because I might not get this chance again, I want to ask you a question. What’s with all the cross-dressing, dude? I mean, was it really that funny to have so many of your characters dress up in someone else’s clothes and be mistaken for someone else? Was it really worth the cheap laughs to have The Merchant of Venice end on a pointless case of women dressing as men again? It undervalues the rest of the narrative to have that scene at the end where the two women trick their new husbands into giving them their rings. I was with you when Portia was using the disguise to school a bunch of men even if it does raise some questions. It was still a power move. But then the thing about the rings? Unnecessary. Portia is one of the most irritating women in you plays and it’s because she plays that stupid game. And don’t even get me started on Rosalind.
Was the taste in humour so unsophisticated in your day that all it took was one women to dress up as a man to create the best comedy of all time? Imagine what your audiences would have though of Mrs Brown’s Boys. They’d bloody love it. But I’m happy that you found something that worked for you. And, maybe, you were making some bold statement about gender and women. Maybe you were allowing these women to take a significant part in their stories that they would have been unable to do dressed as a man. Maybe. Or maybe it was simply to give the poor young man pretending to be Portia a chance to play a boy for once? Either way. I’m worried about you, man.
Exit, pursued by a bear.