Tuesday, June 7, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Nothing Like a Dame

Princess Elizabeth with her first corgi Dookie in 1936.
by Liz Smith

There is Nothing Like a Dame (Diana Rigg) or a Queen (Elizabeth II — 90 and going Strong!)

"I WONDER if you are the worst person I ever met? After a certain age, it's hard to recall, but the truly vile ones stand out through the years." That was Diana Rigg as Lady Olenna, deliciously dissing the wicked Cersei (Lena Headey) of "Game of Thrones" to filth.
Rigg's two scenes in "GOT" (One with the delectable Natalie Dormer as Queen Margaery) on Sunday were the virtual highpoints of the show. Not much is happening, week-by-week, for a mere 45 minutes, and the season is already more than half over. And some of the things that do happen (Arya behaving with apparent reckless stupidity, and Jon Snow rather hunched up and ineffective — actors Maisie Williams and Kit Harrington, respectively) are wildly out of character. I mean, you'd think Jon coming back from the dead might have given him a bit more joie de vivre!
Wouldn't it be better to basically concentrate on one storyline per episode (as "Penny Dreadful" often does) and then combine and wrap them up in the last three? The herky-jerky, stop-start of "GOT" is draining the series of vitality and sense. (As much sense as a show like this can reasonably be expected to make.)

In any case, brava to Dame Diana Rigg, who is rather the Maggie Smith of "GOT." One always knew they were in for a good time when Maggie's Dowager Countess arched an eyebrow and began dispensing scathing bon mots, criticisms and unwanted truth-telling to all and sundry in "Downton Abbey." So it is with Lady Olenna. Diana, alas, doesn't receive the same amount of screen time that Maggie did. But she makes every second of what she does have, count!
THIS MONTH'S Vanity Fair magazine devotes its cover and many pages inside to England's astonishing monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. (Annie Leibovitz, of course, provides the cover image.)

There are stories about photographing her ... a reminisce from one of her private secretaries ... a touching piece on her beloved Corgis ("the other dynasty," as writer Michael Joseph Gross observes," given that the line of canine companions goes back to Susan, a pet gifted to Princess Elizabeth on her 18th birthday.) Also, an amusing article by society's Reinaldo Herrera. He knows the Queen. She's a friend. He and his wife, designer Carolina Herrera, have dined with Her Majesty.

Reinaldo attempts to convey the private, personal woman behind the scepter and crown. "Nobody ever feels that they can talk of the human side of the Queen — her suffering and laughter. As with all of us, she's had both." Apparently, QE2 is a marvelous hostess, who puts people at ease and knows how to mix up a table, so nobody's bored. (Generally that means never place a husband and wife together!)

But I liked this Herrera anecdote best: "I was walking down Regent Street in London one day in 1978 ... I saw a beautiful maroon Rolls-Royce, and inside was the Queen. She waved at me, and I, like D'Artagnan, bowed to the ground. Later, when I told Princess Margaret that I'd made a fool of myself, she didn't believe me or that the Queen had waved. She called her sister, and the Queen said: 'He behaved perfectly, and of course I waved! I never see anybody I know on the street!'"
Another cute bit came from her secretary, Sir Kenneth Scott. He recalled that once in a shop, she was faced with another customer who said, 'You look just like the Queen.' Elizabeth replied, deadpan, "How very reassuring!"
The Queen, surrounded by two of her eight grandchildren and her five great-grandchildren in the Green Drawing Room at Windsor in April. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.
NO MATTER what we might think about British royalty — that it's absurd and outdated, that the family are nothing but rich layabouts who sponge off the poor and middle-class, the fact is, Americans have always been madly interested in their comings and goings and scandals. (We fought to free ourselves from the Brits, but their regal fripperies always fascinate.)
More importantly, so have the British, who realize the monarchy is not only good for tourism, but vital to the self-esteem of that small island, which has seen better days in terms of power and influence. The Family is something to count on, even for the young — especially as William and Kate have revolutionized their own lives within the strictures of dynastic obligations.
They are young moderns, who live privately, raise their children with hands-on affection, and knew exactly who they both were before they wed. (They are following the best examples set by Princess Diana, who rebelled so spectacularly; she revamped her own role and that of a future generation, but at a heavy cost.)
For all the wealth and the trappings and the fine homes, I wonder how many "ordinary" people would really trade places with the Queen or most of her family if they realized that it is a life of unstinting, unrelenting duty of the highest caliber. It's not party central, even if, when young, some of the royals — as all young people will — behave a bit bawdily.

The Queen's schedule alone is of such a set pattern, month after month, year after year, that I believe it would drive a nice average bank teller, who fantasized about "living like a queen" to heavy drinking, fast! (The Queen does enjoy "an occasional gin and tonic" and I think she more than deserves it.)
At 90, she shows no signs of slowing down or abdicating. Her sense of duty, one that was thrust upon her at the age of 25, never wavers.

She knows, as VF's William Shawcross writes, that to her subjects she is "the center which has always, always held."

With Denis Ferrara

Contact Liz here.