The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor–the Truth and the Turmoil

By Tina Brown

In The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown, I felt like I was getting the straight scoop. Or at least as straight as is possible. In addition, it was entertaining, seemingly agenda-free, balanced, eye-opening, and juicy. Alas, it relentlessly barreled towards the tragedy of Diana’s death, which, to put it lightly, put a pall on my wholehearted enjoyment of reading the story. All of the above adjectives also apply to The Palace Papers which, in addition, is sometimes laugh-out-loud-funny. There is a neverending stream of revelations and “Who knew?” moments involving Camilla and her first husband, Thomas Markle, The Spencers, the Queen Mother, and too many more to mention. I approached this one with more enthusiasm because as I write this, the main characters’ story isn’t yet finished. There is hope that everything will turn out all right for this crazy family.

In Tina Brown’s wry and clear-eyed analysis of the royal family’s characters and actions, no one escapes unscathed. Of course, some are more scathed than others. There is entertainment to be found on almost every page. If you can’t stand Prince Andrew and who does, you will take great pleasure in TB’s recounting of his degrading fall from grace. He’s even worse than you think he is. If you love the Queen, you will be discomfited to learn of the many times her habit of “ostriching”, that is, stubbornly ignoring red flags in order to avoid confrontation, has caused embarrassment and disaster. If you like Kate you may be disappointed that, yes, it’s probably true that she schemed and planned to catch William before she even knew him. And to keep him. And thank God she did. Catherine and William both as a unit and individually come off the best. As does her family, especially her mother. Also, Camilla. A lot of time is spent on Camilla and she emerges as somewhat of a heroine. And one you’d most like to be your dinner partner. Charles though mostly living up to his reputation as an “eccentric drip too needy, too vulnerable, too emotional, too complicated,[and] too self-centered,” in the end comes off pretty well. Why isn’t “Charles more celebrated for his strenuous progressivism, and for his demonstrably humane labors? Ironically, he cared about many of the things the liberal bible The Guardian espoused, and to which the [royalist and conservative] Murdoch press was instinctively hostile.” Surprisingly, Harry’s 2 most famous ex-girlfriends, Chelsy Davy and Cressida “Cringe de-la Cringe” Bonas, both come across as great girls that Harry would have been lucky to land. The despicable acts of the British tabloids drove Chelsy away. With Cressida, it was both the tabloids and Harry’s inability to manage his hatred of them. It was she who got him into much-needed therapy. Who knew?

William and Harry can only be understood in the context of their mother, so there is a lot of still interesting analysis of Diana and rehashing of her adventures. Volatile Harry idolizes his mother. He has inherited a lot of her qualities, both good and bad. He is more Spencer than Windsor. But he doesn’t understand her as well as sensible William. He was sadly privy to more of her unfortunate behavior and he is more Windsor than Spencer.

And what of Meghan and Harry? Whoo Boy. It is complicated. A lot of time is spent recounting Meghan’s history and trying to understand and explain her. In many ways, it all comes down to her non-understanding of British and Royal ways.

Meghan’s curious failure to prepare for a vocation that was the royal equivalent of taking the veil was a surprise to many of her former colleagues… Meghan as an actress had always been known for “doing her homework,” exhaustively grilling anyone who could help her for “notes.”

And the converse is true. Shouldn’t the Royal household have made an effort to understand her and explain things to her? “She found it draining to traverse the chasms between her California effusiveness and British understatement. It was her earnestness versus their irony, her explicitness versus their words unsaid.” It was a clash of cultures rather than personalities. “The British work ethic is a frustration for any alpha American hell-bent on “hitting the ground running.” William advised Harry and Michelle Obama advised Meghan to “take time”. Harry, to marry Meghan, and Meghan to make positive change. Neither of them listened. Maybe they would have, but time is something that Harry, wanting a family, and 38-year-old Meghan did not have a lot of. It’s a darn shame. She started off so well.

As one former Palace adviser put it to [the author]: “Very impressive. Very strong, very motivated, brought up to think she can change the world. It’s a very American type; we don’t have them here.” And she could have been just what the doctor ordered for the royal family. Now her platform is gone.

Meghan comes across as self-important, but, until her star aligned with Harry’s, uncomfortably aware her that actual social and professional status (6th on the call sheet) was not keeping up with her (very) lofty ambitions. Harry and Meghan are both too much alike. They are both temperamental and combative. They fuel each other’s distrust of everybody else and revel in their “us against the world” mentality. He did not want her to conform. That would not have suited his purpose. The other royal couples are successful because they balance and steady each other, not egg each other on. “My strength and stay.”

perhaps the most powerful survival element of the monarchy has turned out to be marital love. Without the caring resolve of the Queen Mother, George VI would have been a stammering introvert who could never have led the country in its hour of need. Without Philip’s bracing loyalty, the Queen could have been a lonely conformist, run by her courtiers. Without finally being allowed to marry Camilla, Charles would have suffered a slow death of the soul instead of his late flowering into an unapologetically happy man. And without Kate’s serene empathy, William might have collapsed under the pain of his childhood and the weight of his future. Diana’s two boys have each found the sustaining love that eluded her, even though in Harry’s case he chose to leave rather than allow his wife to be crushed by the media and the Palace machine.”

Ever since Harry was forced out of his chosen military career, which suited him perfectly and would have been the making of him, he had been unmoored and desperately unhappy. His escape, thanks to Meghan, was probably for the best. But can he weather the challenges of his new life and the necessity of making his own way? Given his history? Can Meghan’s ego be satisfied with her diminishing influence? And what about the rest of the Windsors? Can their institution survive the death of the Queen? It’ll be interesting.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

June 12, 2022

A Royal Runaway Romance

” So You Went and Fell in Love with a Princess.”

A royal on a road trip. What could go wrong? This one was ripe for every cliche in the book being a mash-up of two popular Hallmark tropes. But it was actually pretty good. Yes, we had a festival, S’mores at the fireside, save the Bed-and-Breakfast, and a ranch family reconciliation, but thanks to excellent rapport and chemistry between the two lead characters it was slightly above average for me.

The Princess of Bundleberry? Burberry? (obviously not an eastern or southern European  country because it doesn’t end in “ia”) falls for the Chicago, America artist who is painting her portrait. When he goes back home, she schemes to follow him by visiting her Uncle in California. Once in California, her passport is confiscated (S.O.P. for royals in case they want to fly the coop) and she is forced to drive instead of fly to Chicago where the supremely barely interested artist is having a showing. Meanwhile, she is assigned a bodyguard/watchdog. Her Uncle sympathizes with her predicament and gives her his blessing to follow her heart, as he once did, and hires the reluctant (he’s about to go on vacation) bodyguard to drive her across the American west to Chicago (in a gorgeous vintage Mustang) to see if there is a future with this artist fellow. Of course,  the alert viewer understands that there is no chance of this thanks to many clues.

A couple of things pulled this out of the mire. First, the princess, played by newcomer Philippa Northeast, who started out stiff and boring, really opened up once she started experiencing “typical” American culture. Her enthusiasm and embrace of diners, food, festivals, salt of the earth Americans, and the beautiful expanse of the United States was very endearing. The romance going on between her and the bodyguard was well constructed. In addition to the fun they have along the way, they also have a few serious conversations that contribute to their friendship and understanding. He always maintains his professionalism despite being friendly and nice so there was a slow burn thing going on. There is the anticipation of her reunion with the artist and what’s going to happen. We know he was just casually flirting with her in Buttleberry and he is more involved with his career than with a relationship with her. His cavalier treatment was a stretch since he probably owed his current popularity to painting her portrait, she is beautiful and nice, and he is single. We know he is not gay, because that role is filled by the understanding Uncle. Yet he disses her every step of the way, not even returning her calls.  You gotta kind of admire his chutzpah, actually.

I need not say more about how this all plays out except to say it is a much better ending than Roman Holiday.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

April 14, 2022

The Winter Palace

Surprisingly Watchable

Plot-wise, this was a garden-variety example of the royal/commoner romance plot. Danica McKellar is a new author with one successful novel who is being pressured to submit her second romance novel per her contract. Predictably she has writer’s block and is given the opportunity to be a caretaker at a remote lodge in the mountains to write in some peace and quiet. No, it’s not haunted and she doesn’t turn into a homicidal maniac. Sorry to disappoint. It’s a teeny-tiny little lodge (or very large cabin), hardly The Overlook Hotel or a “Winter Palace” per the rendering on the poster. The owners are European and haven’t been there for years. All she has to do is knock the icicles off the eaves, take care of the furnace, and find her inspiration to honor her contract. The owner shows up unexpectedly and it’s a prince with his two minions.

This was watchable thanks to Neal Bledsoe who played the prince. He was very attractive and had a lot of charisma. He also had a personality, starting off snooty and entitled and loosening up slowly but surely while becoming enamored of Danica. The two actors had a nice rapport going throughout. Danica was not bad in this one. Despite the usual, and I do mean usual, roadblocks, it all proceeds to a happy ending and I liked the resolution to the “how can an American romance novelist find happiness with a Concordian King” dilemma.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

January 25, 2022

Fit for a Prince

So Bad It’s Almost Good. No, Not Really, It’s Just Bad.

Cindy Cordella is a seamstress at premier dress designer Rebecca’s dress shop. Little does anyone know that it is Cindy the Drudge who is doing all of the dress designing without proper recognition. Rebecca’s shop is hired to do the dresses for the wedding of the year that Prince Ronan is expected to attend. Cindy hopes that if she does a good job her loyalty will be rewarded. Prince Ronan visits the shop, meets Cindy, and they hit it off much to the displeasure of two jealous females. Does this sound familiar?

I guess someone there at Hallmark supposes that the narrow-chested, delicate, bland looks of the actor who played Prince Ronan convey an aristocratic aura because this is the second time he has played a prince. To me, he is miscast as a romantic lead unless it is in a romantic dark-horse underdog role. The testosterone is low in this one. And I don’t always prefer a Steve Bacic or a Ben Ayers, Kris Polaha, or Antonio Cupo. I also like sweet and funny types like Luke Macfarlane and Paul Campbell.

Now on to Natalie Hall. Apparently, Hallmark has decided that she is the go-to female lead when youth and prettiness are required. And when I say youth, I mean closer to 30 than 40 or 45. Unfortunately, she has little else to offer. She’s not bad but nothing to be especially worthy of scoring 6 Hallmark lead roles in 2 years. The usual Hallmark work-horses had better watch their backs even though most of them have more acting talent, charm, appeal, and charisma despite their age.

Others have pointed out many of the ridiculous plot points that abound in this disaster. Tip: Don’t eat greasy pizza while handling your dress materials. Tip: don’t roll your rack of dresses anywhere near a chocolate fountain. But their ballroom dance at the end was my pick for “most cringe-worthy scene.” It looked like a losing effort on Dancing with the Stars. I thought it couldn’t get worse until she broke into a solo routine that would have embarrassed famous bad dancer Elaine Benes from Seinfeld. I thought at one point she was going to drop to the floor and twirl around on her butt. The worst thing in the whole mess was the lack of resolution to the mismatch of how a King was going to unite with an ambitious workaholic partner in a global corporation. It’s scary to think this one might need a sequel.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

March 9, 2021

Christmas With a Crown

Save the Library

This is a no more than serviceable Prince Pretending to be a Commoner in America story. He is visiting a small town trying to discover the true meaning of Christmas, so camouflaged as it is in the palace by meaningless tradition and formality. He goes to the town where a late former friend of his mother lived and that to him embodies the spirit of Christmas via her letters to his mother, the queen. He gets on the wrong side of a woman who is trying to save the local library by reviving her mother’s yearly project, the Winter Fest. Her mother, it turns out, just happens to be the woman whose letters to his mother have brought him to town.

Teryl Rothery plays the queen, who is pretty unpleasant throughout almost the whole movie. Marcus Rosner, a Hallmark veteran is good as the square-jawed dimpled prince. He was princely. I actually liked his use of a quasi-English accent when in his prince persona and an American accent when in disguise. Unfortunately, the actress who played his love interest was not a good match, in my opinion. For one thing, she seemed too mature and worldly-wise to be a romantic lead for a prince in disguise in Small-Town U. S. A. The character got on my bad side right away by foolishly turning down his enthusiastic offer of help with saving the library because he was a visitor and not “part of the community.” Especially since No One in the Actual “Community” stepped up to the plate. Everyone had an excuse.

There is a priceless scene near the end of the movie where Queen Teryl orders Prince Nicolas to kneel before her and pulls out a crown that looks like it was snagged from the Burger King mascot. She **spoiler alert**coronates her son right there in the middle of Winter Fest. I’m not sure whether this added a star to my rating or subtracted a star. But one thing for sure, Teryl and Marcus looked distinctly uncomfortable.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

December 14, 2021

Royally Wrapped for Christmas

That’s a Wrap!

This took the corny fairytale aspects of the heavily clichéd royal plotline to a new level. It was enjoyable. If you were 10. I checked this out solely because of Brendan Fehr who has had a lot of chemistry with his costars and lots of charisma on his own in the two other movies I have seen in him.

In this one, Jen Lilley plays the head of the New York branch of the royal charity of Veronia. The prince visits one day incognito and they are both secretly smitten. Next thing you know, she is invited to Veronia along with the Dublin head and the Mumbai head to help with the 100th anniversary of the Christmas charity. Little do they know that they are being screened to see which one of these top performers gets the big promotion to the worldwide director of the charity.

I won’t go further into the plot, but rest assured it involves a disapproving Queen, an unwelcome arranged marriage, heartwarming interactions with the peasant children, a cheating rival, a supportive friend, a Gala ball, and a public proposal of marriage despite not even a kiss. That’s all fine. I didn’t expect anything different. However, Jen Lilley and the character she played got on my last nerve. I am usually fairly neutral about her as an actress, but this one really highlighted why she is not a favorite. Her character was so humble and self-effacing she came across as more of a spiritless victim who wouldn’t say boo to a goose than an intelligent capable woman. I can’t really be mean about the actress, because that is the part she was playing, after all. But let’s just say she was perfectly cast. No one can do self-deprecating and shy, with those huge goo-goo eyes, like she can. The character was so kind, so sweet, and so gentle that if I had been the prince I would have wondered what she was up to. At one point her colleague says, “Stop making yourself so small!” Thank-you! In a few scenes, she even comes across as disingenuous. GAC had a strong start this season, but as Hallmark is well aware, you can’t win them all!

Rating: 2 out of 5.

November 29, 2021

A Christmas in Royal Fashion

Mis-Cast

I know this was a fairy tale-type movie, so I won’t criticize all of the unlikely events that occur. In fact, I enjoyed the ending where they provided a book end to the story to match the “This is a fantasy-don’t judge us” beginning.

My main problem was with the casting and the acting of Diarmaid Murtagh who played the prince. I should probably blame the director rather than the actor, though. The character was supposed to be an immature and devil-may-care international playboy. That’s why King sent him to America in place of the ambassador: to learn some responsibility. First off he was too old for the part of an immature scamp who needed to grow up and get his priorities in order. And once he got to America, he had a personality transplant and acted like he had a stick up his you-know-what the whole time. And he acted like he had never been out of the castle. Oooooh…The Ocean. Hardly an international playboy. He might make a good Viking,

but as a suave handsome prince, he was a bust. You know how they say, “He cleaned up well!” ? Stay with the bedraggled Barbarian thing, Diarmaid.

Cindy Busby was likable as usual, as a girl who just wants to do the right thing and a good job, but gets caught up in an embarrassing and career-wrecking situation of her own making.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

November 14, 2021

Christmas With a Prince: The Royal Baby

Silly and Laborious

This was very silly. The script was silly, some of the acting was silly, and the production values were lacking, which made some of the scenes silly. I’ll deal with the production values first. At one point, we see the hospital where (spoiler alert!) Dr. Tasha our American princess heroine is having her baby. The smoke or steam from a chimney is frozen in midair and not wafting upwards. Obviously, a photograph stuck in front of the camera. And what was Dr. Tasha wearing during a TV interview? A green dress, red shoes, and a yellow hat? Why? Was she impersonating an elf? They didn’t have any clothes in the wardrobe department that went together? The 3rd strike on the cheap budget issue was the fact that one of the main characters, Charles Shaughnessy was seen entirely on video. Even when he was supposed to be in the same building, they talked to him via an electronic device. In the one scene where they couldn’t get around not having his presence (the baptism), he was obviously put in via green screen or some other movie trick. Covid? I guess? But they could have made it more seamless. This was definitely phony-looking. The weird thing was that some of the sets were very lavish looking and authentic. And most of the other wardrobe was unobjectionable.

The acting of two of the actors trying to be funny was laughable. In that they were not funny. Specifically, the actor who played Dr. Tasha’s brother, and the actor who played Blevins, Prince Alexander’s butler(?) courtier(?) Major Domo(?). Their mugging should have been taken down a couple of notches by the director. Speaking of acting, was Princess Tasha having (spoiler alert!)  babies or did she have a cramp in her toe? And speaking of giving birth, No one, including Dr. Tasha or her obstetrician knew she was having (spoiler alert!) twins until the second one popped out? I won’t belabor the silliness of that like I won’t mention the silliness of the possibility of declaring a hospital room part of another country.

I will mention one more silly scene. Nurse Jeff puts an engagement ring into a cup of tea and leaves it on the counter. A hospital employee drinks the tea and just leaves the cup in the sink with the ring still in it. I hope neither of these two is allowed around sick people.  Sorry, one more scene. OK, so Dr. Tasha, who is a highly educated, sophisticated, and worldly woman who has been a princess for over a year, has to be taught table manners before she is allowed to go back to visit her own country? (Don’t reach across the table to grab the roll with your bare hands! Use the tongs!) I admit, although I saw the first one in this trilogy I don’t remember it. And I haven’t seen the second one in the trilogy. But I don’t think it was established that Dr. Tasha was born in a barn.

The main conflict had to do with the king not knowing a girl baby would be able to inherit the throne. He kept insisting the boy was born first even though he was told the girl baby was born first numerous times. I won’t spoil how all that was resolved.

All in all, although I am used to overlooking ridiculous aspects of  Christmas movies no matter what the network and still enjoying them, this one was just too dumb.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

November 14, 2021

The Diana Chronicles

by Tina Brown

I picked this book up from the library; my interest prodded by Sally Bedell-Smith’s incredibly and obviously resentful and contemptuous take on Diana and mushy worshipful view of Queen Elizabeth. I was looking for a more balanced view of both women. The only quibble I have is how quickly Diana goes from a sweetly dumb romantic (and slightly “off”) teenager to a scary sophisticated savvy and strange woman. Perhaps the progression is unknowable; it seems to be a whole series of tipping points. But boy, it happened quickly! The writing is witty and engaging. Another thing that stands out so is how close the two might have been to making a go of it or at least hung on longer and made their time together much happier and more tolerable. If only Diana had gotten psychological help. If only Camilla Parker-Bowles had just backed off. If only Charles had not been such a jerk. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

February 12, 2012

The Firebird

By Susanna Kearsley

“Hiding the person you are,’ he said, ‘won’t make you happy. I never hide who I am. What I am.”

Having read The Winter Sea, I was looking forward to The Firebird because I was very interested in knowing what became of Anna, the daughter of the protagonists in Slains #1, and hoped for a glimpse or two of them. I was also excited that the character of young Rob from the first book I read by this author, The Shadowy Horses, was a player in this one. It does deliver in that regard, but I wish she had incorporated some of the contemporary players in The Winter Sea and more than just Rob of Shadowy Horses as well. Although the book kept me interested as far as the historical part of the dual timeline, It was ultimately a bit of a letdown. Kearsley is so meticulous about her historical research and so careful to be faithful to her real but little-known actors on history’s stage, that her plot and character development took a distant second in this one. Every single person in this book actually existed except Anna herself, and a few stray innkeepers and such. Wikipedia got a good workout by me, and her historical notes at the end actually expose what contributed to the weakness of this book. Having to be faithful to all that she discovered in original source materials put too many constraints on what SK could actually do with the character and plot.

The contemporary part of the story did not rescue it. It was dull, except for a brief little unexpected discovery at the end, and very repetitive. Unlike The Winter Sea, it did not join past and present together in a big emotional wallop. There were a lot of loose ends. Nicola’s fascination with a certain painting at the Hermitage which was set up like it was going to be responsible for some kind of revelation was just dropped cold. It felt rushed, and left some pretty gaping plot holes. The heroine was irritating and nonsensical, and our Rob, from The Shadowy Horses, was nice, and grew up to be a fine young man, but there was no suspense or conflict in the relationship.

There were flashes of excellence in this book, and I can’t give it less than a 3 because I have so much respect for Kearsley’s writing and her hard work. 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

February 11, 2016