A title that sets an impossible standard, with predictable results.
The problem for any writer setting out to produce an intimate biography of Queen Elizabeth II is that the people who might supply the necessary anecdotes will never do so. The British monarch is on public view so much that an impenetrable institutional wall protects what remains of her private life, leaving the would-be biographer little to work with but carefully orchestrated public appearances and statements and rank speculation. Journalist Marr (The Making of Modern Britain, 2010, etc.) could not overcome these obstacles, which is just as well. Rather than serve up more warmed-over family soap opera, the author provides a comprehensive and lively history and analysis of the British monarchy as a political and social institution from the World War I to the present, more than half of which time has been taken up by Elizabeth’s reign. During this period the monarchy has had to adapt to Britain’s transition from ruler of a vast empire to head of the Commonwealth of Nations, and to the nation’s steady decline in global influence. Elizabeth has also had to guide the change in the social role of the royal family from the starchy and unrealistic model of conventional middle-class family values promoted at the time of her accession to one more accepting of human failings in the wake of her children’s divorces. Marr describes in thorough detail Elizabeth’s diligent exercise of her constitutional duties as sovereign through the crises of almost six decades, including her relationships with more than a dozen prime ministers. He also ably discusses her activities as head of state, her efforts to cope with her children’s marital problems and controversies surrounding the royal finances in the context of the ongoing debate about the sovereign’s proper role in a modern democratic society.
A perceptive history of the British monarchy under the management of the current Queen—just not the “intimate” one promised by the title.