Monday, November 7, 2022

If You Think Your Life Sucks, Please Read...

Author Penny Junor believes Camilla Parker-Bowles is misunderstood. She says this over and over and over again until you want to SCREAM. 

How-dee, movie lovers.

Have you ever woken up one morning and felt the entire world was against you? Have you ever felt you were unjustly blamed for some high crimes or misdemeanors? Have you ever felt caricatured, excluded, lampooned, criticized, bullied and mercilessly poked fun of?

If so, well, welcome to middle school! But seriously, folks, Camilla Parker-Bowles can relate--and so can Junk Cinema. That's why this blog has the semi-regular feature called "If You Think Your Life Sucks, Please Watch/Read..." where a book or flick is suggested to lighten your mood, if only momentarily.

Back in the day, Camilla was one of the most hated women in Britain for supposedly breaking up the marriage of Charles and Diana. But Camilla is a really good egg. She's warm, funny, down-to-earth, a great cook ("her roast chicken is legendary") and a doting grandma. The view that she's a nasty, chain smoking home wrecker is just wrong, wrong, wrong.

At least, that's the view point of author Penny Junor. And she states it over and over and over again in her book The Duchess: Camilla Parker-Bowles and the Love Affair That Rocked the Crown. If, by the end of this tome, you are not convinced that the Duchess of Cornwall--now the Queen Consort-- has been the most maligned person the planet, you are hereby sentenced to read this book until you agree one-hundred percent that Camilla has indeed been the most maligned person on the planet ( Melania Trump, who once claimed she was the most maligned person on the planet, really should read this book. Junor makes a pretty good case that in the most maligned person sweepstakes, Camilla has it all over Melania). 

Melania Trump, "I'm the most bullied person on the planet!" Camilla Parker-Bowles, "No! I'm the most bullied person on the planet!" Stop! You're both bullied!

How did Camilla end up in this situation? Princess Diana. That's because Di, almost from the beginning of her relationship with Charles, never, ever trusted Camilla. Nor did she believe hubby Charles when he insisted he had ended it with Camilla. So, when the Wales marriage began to crumble, Diana instantly knew who to blame.

 According to Junor, this was all so unfair to Camilla; to paint her as a scheming home wrecker was so wide of the mark it was ridiculous. At least according to Junor, anyway. 

 In her earnest portrayal, Camilla Shand came into this world a nice, horse-loving daddy's girl; she grew up among the wealthy British gentry. Camilla attended socially acceptable schools, which taught her to read and write, but little else. No matter, because Camilla possessed one talent you can't teach: how to talk to boys. This talent--along with her "laughing eyes"--made Camilla the hit of every party and ensured her future success among the smart set.

After boarding school, Camilla was sent to finishing school abroad, where she learned to "lay a table" and cook that legendary roast chicken. Then it was back to Britain to make her formal debut into society, lose her virginity and live the life of a well-connected deb. It was during Camilla's life as an "It Girl" that she met the love of her life, the man she longed to marry: Andrew Parker-Bowles. 

Andrew Parker-Bowles: "I really wanted my wife...but I wanted everyone else's wife, too."

Andrew was a wealthy, semi-aristocratic military officer, horse lover and polo player par excellance. He was also a love 'em and leave 'em cad who went through women like a hot knife through butter. Never the less, Camilla was determined to marry him and was willing to put up with an on-and-off relationship for several years until Andrew came to his senses...or, rather, his father and Camilla's father placed an engagement notice in The Times behind Andrew's back, forcing him to propose, which he eventually did.

It was while Camilla was waiting for cuddlemate Andrew to propose that she was introduced to Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales. It was love at first sight, at least for Charles. He loved the fact that Camilla was a laid-back country gal who didn't fuss over her hair and clothes, that she loved horses and polo and that she laughed at the same things he did. The couple's idyll ended when Charles (then in the Royal Navy) went back to his ship. For someone so head-over-heels in love, however, Charles was pretty tight-lipped about it, and failed to share this information with Camilla. Author Junor believes that Charles' failure to do so was based on several factors: A) He was a boob, B) He wasn't ready to marry anyone at that time, C) He feared Camilla would turn him down and that D) Camilla wouldn't be considered "pure and posh" enough to be Britain's next queen, at least according to the royal family. Never mind that Charles wasn't exactly "pure" (aka a virgin) or really even "posh" himself.

As the 1970's slowly wound into the 1980's, Charles and Camilla went their separate ways. Except they didn't. See, Andrew Parker-Bowles was a polo pal of Charles, and a relative of Charles' beloved granny the Queen Mother, so he and wife Camilla soon became part of "the Highgrove set" that surrounded Chuck. This also kept the Charles/Camilla flame on a continual low simmer.  Andrew, meanwhile, didn't find marriage or fatherhood (he and Camilla had two kids) any reason to stop sleeping with other women. Thus, the Parker-Bowles' union quickly became one where Andrew lived in London during the week and screwed various women, while Camilla stayed with the kids in the country. Everybody met up on weekends to ride the hounds and shoot ducks and stuff. Then Andrew would return to London and his latest cuddlemate and the whole cycle would begin again. 

This type of "open marriage" is considered quite normal in high society circles; as long as everybody stays "discrete" and polite about things, of course. Fidelity and monogamy are boring middle/working class virtues for boring middle/working class people, not the country's grandees. So who would raise an eyebrow when poor Camilla, fed up with hubby's serial sleeping around, turned to good friend Charles for some understanding and, well, one thing led to another and soon enough Charles and Camilla were mattress mates once more.

Unfortunately, Charles wasn't an anonymous aristocratic; he was heir to Europe's best known throne. Sure, he could sleep around all he wanted (his beloved "Uncle Dickie" actually encouraged him to do so), but the fun and games would have to end (or least pause) long enough for the Prince of Wales to collect a wife and sire some kids to secure the Windsor line. After innocently proclaiming that "about 30" was a good age to marry, the British press, the public and his parents started hammering Charles to get a move on, especially as the big three-oh was starring him in the face. 

"Don't worry, dear. Charles and I are just good friends.": Lady Diana Spencer and Camilla at the races.

That's when Lady Diana Spencer enters the picture. The apple-cheeked aristocrat came from the wealthier and infinitely more British House of Spencer. She was young, pretty, photogenic and, at 19, hadn't had the time to accumulate much of a "past". She also seemed "besotted" with Charles--and he with her, up to a point. Everybody agreed that Lady Diana was right for the job of Princess of Wales, including Camilla. 

The glorious "Wedding of the Century" (July 29, 1981) was the sort of spectacle the British do so well: lots of horses, carriages and soldiers, cheering crowds, soaring choirs and big, goofy hats. It may have been the happiest day of Charles and Diana's marriage, because problems were already starting to appear. As author Junor puts it, the Prince and Princess of Wales were a "classic mismatch". Even with the arrival of two sons (William and Harry, coming in 1982 and 1984, respectively), the too-young for her age Diana and the-too-old for his age Charles had little or nothing to build a marriage on (Camilla and Andrew at least had polo in common).

More importantly, despite her breezy Sloane Ranger exterior, Junor explains that Diana suffered from serious mental health issues. Unfortunately, neither Charles nor the royal family understood the complexities of mental illness. Charles, to his credit, did encourage Diana to seek professional help and this did give her some relief. However, her position as the future queen, the press scrutiny that attended her every move, upper class distrust of psychiatry and Diana's own unwillingness to admit her problems (especially her eating disorder) for fear of being labeled, made effective treatment nearly impossible.

So the "Wedding of the Century" devolved into the "War of the Wales". There would be separations, palace denials, awkward photo calls, tell-all books, tell-all interviews, embarrassing leaked phone chats, his-and-hers affairs and eventually the Wales' historic divorce. A year later, a tragic accident in Paris would claim Diana's life.

Alas, "The Wedding of the Century" became "The War of the Wales" very quickly.

However, The Duchess doesn't end there. Although the major principals in this saga would soon be free to remarry, C & C couldn't make things legal--or even appear in public together--because of  one very harsh and unflinching reality: people didn't like them.

This unpopularity, Junor believes, came from press manipulation, pure and simple. The Barrons of Fleet Street sensed right away that the public was more sympathetic to Diana, so they portrayed her as a wronged innocent betrayed by the cold royal family and the unfaithful Prince Charles. Because every soap opera needs a villain, Camilla morphed from a happy-go-lucky country wife into a cynical, scheming, chain-smoking mantrap.

 The unexpected death of Diana and the out-pouring of grief that followed made the couple even more unpopular than they already were. So the PR department of Buckingham Palace rolled up its sleeves and got to work. First, they had to brush up Charles' image as a good dad and worthy future king. Next came an extensive (but largely secret) campaign to not only make Camilla palatial to the British public, but also to the royal family. See, Charles' beloved granny refused to even "receive" Camilla and Queen Elizabeth wouldn't even be in the same room with her--strange behavior, since both ladies attended Camilla's wedding to Andrew years before. Various palace flacks urged Charles to give Camilla up, which he stoutly refused to do. It was years before princes William and Harry agreed to meet her. Meanwhile, Camilla did her part by giving up smoking, having her teeth straightened, enduring a chemical peel, freshening up her hair and make-up and doing charity work--all in hopes of proving her worthiness as Charles' cuddlemate. Finally, mummy QEII began to fear her heir might pull an Edward VIII and abdicate. So she allowed Charles and Camilla to marry--but she didn't attend the ceremony and gave a firm "no" when Charles wanted to have an all-organic sit-down meal to celebrate the nuptials.

Once Charles and Camilla are Mr. and Mrs., The Duchess switches gears from an impossible love story where the devoted couple vanquish all their foes to a run-down Camilla's royal duties, which includes family literacy projects and visiting battered women's shelters. These chapters are Junor's earnest attempt to show that Camilla is just as kind, loving and caring as the late Diana was. She may well be, but the author's breathless tone and gushing prose soon become tiring. By the end of the book, you want to scream, "OK, you've convinced me! Now will you please shut up?"

The Duchess ends with Charles and Camilla happily married, enjoying their growing brood of his-and-hers grandchildren and hoping one day to rule as King Charles III and Queen Consort Camilla, which, by the way, they will in 2023 (The Duchess was written before QEII's passing).

The late Queen Elizabeth on Charles and Camilla's wedding day.

What's the point of all this, you ask?

Maybe the point is The Duchess proves that bad times don't last forever. Even if an entire country believes you're a frumpy, chain smoking home wrecker with bad hair, with enough time, patience and money (his, not yours), you can turn your image around and be, if not exactly embraced or loved, at least respected for your work ethic and applauded for giving up the cancer sticks.

Or maybe the point is that lasting love isn't based on social pedigrees or press approval, but having common interests and values that help you weather the storms of life.

Or maybe it's that Britain's royal family is great throwing glitzy spectacles, but totally sucky when it comes to male/female relationships.

 This is especially true in the case of Prince Charles and the search for his future queen. The Windsors insisted the heir to the throne find a wife using impossible standards more in line with the 19th century than the 20th. What Camilla Shand may have lacked in dress sense or "dignity", she more than made up for in understanding Charles and what he needed to be happy. Diana, for all her charms and aristocratic lineage, didn't. Perhaps if the Windsors had realized times (and morals) had changed since the 1840's, they wouldn't have pushed Charles into marrying a girl simply because she was "posh and pure". 

Charles and Diana after a reporter asks them if they are "in love."

Or maybe The Duchess proves that the best princesses aren't pretty young things who think the Copernican Revolution is a science fiction show on Netflix, but mature, intelligent women who understand the realities of a very difficult and often thankless job.

Or maybe I've over-thought the whole business. Perhaps The Duchess is just a bland book that states REPEATEDLY that Camilla Parker-Bowles is a good egg. With all the upheaval the world is going through at the moment, you could do worse than devote a couple hours to this fan fiction, because it may, just for a short time, distract you.

I like that one best.

So movie lovers, please always remember, and never forget, fairy tales only exist in Disney films and SAVE THE MOVIES.

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