An organic comparison of two highly flawed and deeply sympathetic characters at the helm of England at her most perilous hour.
Historian Weisbrode (On Ambivalence: The Problems and Pleasures of Having it Both Ways, 2012, etc.) navigates among the infinite accounts already existing on Churchill and the House of Windsor for a touching dual portrait of two historical characters whose greatness largely relied on the support of the other. The recent film The King’s Speech brought out the painfully human shortcomings of King George VI, “Bertie,” who always expected his big brother to become king and certainly wasn’t educated for the role. Churchill, although remembered as the country’s savior during World War II, had spent many years previously in the political wilderness. Both men had endured terrible school years and a deep-seated anxiety of influence vis-à-vis their fathers. Both had to step up patriotically to fill the vacuum created by political crisis: Edward VIII’s abdication dropped the royal hot potato in his younger brother’s lap, and Churchill was the only one capable of running the government after the disgrace of Neville Chamberlain. Although Churchill (not then in power) had urged Edward not to abdicate, it is hard to imagine how the prime minister would have minded such a king “with appeasement in the air and his integrity thrown into question.” Churchill and Bertie met for weekly luncheons during the war, with or without the queen; both men used language very deliberately; both had few intimates around them (“they were essentially friendless,” writes the author) but relied on the asymmetry of their relationship and the urgency of official duty to build “an armature of knowledge and trust.” Weisbrode makes a very compelling case that each man was “working against his own faults, on behalf of the other.”
An inspired, engaging comparative portrait.