Good news for viewers ready to take a break from the drama in D.C.: The third season of “The Crown” has landed on Netflix. In the recently released trailer, as Queen Elizabeth (played by Olivia Colman) is getting ready for her Silver Jubilee, she says, “On days like today, ask yourself, ‘In the time I’ve been on the throne, what have I actually achieved?’” Before finding out the answer — and delving into the next phase of delectably upper-crust family drama — royals-watchers may want to brush up on the House of Windsor with these books.
New to “The Crown?” Welcome to your Cliffs Notes. Published to coincide with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, Sally Bedell Smith’s biography taps a host of public sources, plus friends and former courtiers who dish up intimate tidbits “all too often about horses and corgis,” wrote our reviewer, Alan Riding. His other quibble: “Elizabeth has lived a remarkable life yet one that, quite frankly, is a bit dull to recount. Put differently, her somewhat dysfunctional family has provided far livelier copy.” Fans of “The Crown” may disagree.
This dishy account from Queen Elizabeth’s longtime dresser “turns out to be a surprisingly subversive sort of memoir, one flirting with the form of a tell-all: about clothes, sure, and little gossipy tidbits,” Vanessa Friedman wrote. “But it is also about the way a woman who inherited a set of highly defined protocols and expectations has been carefully, and gradually, stretching them into new shapes over time.”
For the uninitiated: Princess Margaret was Queen Elizabeth’s beloved — and envelope-pushing — younger sister who died in 2002. “As a subject, the princess proves to be something she never was in life: obliging. Beautiful, bad-tempered, scandal-prone, she makes for unfailingly good copy, and heaps of it,” Parul Sehgal wrote of Craig Brown’s unorthodox account. “I ripped through the book with the avidity of Margaret attacking her morning vodka and orange juice.”
This one has the distinction of being an authorized biography — meaning the author had access to materials provided by his subject, Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon, also known as the Queen Mum, who died in 2002. When Shawcross’s book came out seven years later, our reviewer wrote, “It is a linear, you-are-there chronicle of the events of her life. Mostly this means lunches, balls, charity events, shooting parties. She cut cakes, she cut ribbons, she cut the rug. She was a royal.”
One might argue that the complicated relationship between Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, is the best part of “The Crown.” (The clothes and dogs are fun, too.) In her “semi-authorized biography,” Gyles Brandreth takes a closer look at the royal marriage, which turns 72 on Nov. 20. Here’s a sneak peek: “Thanks to servants’ tittle-tattle (reliable in this instance) we do know that Prince Philip, in the early days of his marriage, did not wear pajamas.”
“Did you know that Prince Philip was smuggled out of Greece as a baby in a fruit crate in 1922, as his father, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, evaded execution?” wrote Liesl Schillinger in her review of Philip Eade’s book. “Did you know that his mother was institutionalized when he was 8, at which point his father drifted off to Monte Carlo and Paris, leaving the boy effectively homeless (though he spent boarding-school holidays with his mother’s relatives)? Did you know that his mother became a nun, and was honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations — the highest honor Israel grants non-Jews — for her wartime actions?” Need we say more?
In her sympathetic biography, Smith reveals that “poor Charles” was “a constant refrain” as she conducted her interviews, “spoken in despair by those who loved him, with sarcasm by those who resented him.” Our reviewer — who went to school with the prince — wrote, “[Smith] sympathetically reminds us that “his every step along the way” has been “inspected and analyzed: his promise, his awkwardness, his happiness, his suffering, his betrayals and embarrassments and mistakes, his loneliness, his success — and especially his relentless search for meaning, approval and love.”
What’s a castle without the bling? In his heavily-illustrated celebration of jewels, a former director of the Royal Collection explains how necklaces have been shortened and brooches dismantled to suit different queens’ tastes. Our reviewer writes, “He also recounts a few family scandals. Queen Victoria battled with her German cousins over inherited jewelry, and her granddaughter-in-law, Queen Mary, had to buy back another batch of treasure from a cousin’s mistress.”