The Captive Queen…and dvds!

I have been known to excite cries of despair in book groups. Not because I have some some daft ideas – that much is self evident- but if all else fails I contribute the immortal phrase “We could always watch it on dvd”.

In the course of life I have to go to coffee mornings. Mainly charity events, they sometimes seem to require military style planning in order to achieve the right balance of stalls, helpers and my favourite  job…what to do with the left over books. On Saturday I floated round one such event, waiting to supplement any stalls where the holder ‘had to go and powder her/his nose’. But I did espy a dvd that I had almost bought recently from a certain interweb site… “The Lion in Winter”, the film of the meeting of Henry II and his warring family. I snapped this prize item up, as I have been reading the book of the film, which also contains much more, The Captive Queen – A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir.

I would not usually review a hardback book here, but it is possible to borrow a copy from a library, or find it on offer somewhere. Either way, I think if you are only going to read one straight historical novel this year or month, it ought to be this one.

Telling the story of Eleanor’s life from her first fateful meeting with Henry, it is a story that deals with empire building, the differences in the various land holding that Henry and Eleanor achieved, but also the love story of a remarkable woman for her powerful husband and her much loved children. It is a sad book in some respects; the loss of children struck a particular cord with me but did not mean that the book was unreadable. Rather its recounting of the survival of a woman’s spirit in the face of so many challenges is what transforms this book from history to a fascinating read. It is not essential to know a great deal of history to appreciate this book; it stands alone as a novel of place as well as personality.  Eleanor was no saint in that her track record with men showed that it was not only the male rulers who could play a political game with their relationships, but Henry’s immense drive for power meant that literally no attractive woman was ignored, to say the least. Eleanor’s actions against Henry are justified in this novel by the standards of both the times and the unique nature of their position, as well as her devotion to her many children. She becomes such a real person by the end of the novel that her long life seems to encompass many of our own issues; priorities, difficult decisions, life changing love.

I have got a copy of Weir’s biography of Eleanor, the research for which apparently inspired her desire to write historical novels generally as a way of filling in the gaps left by the hard facts which remain. I would like to read it sometime soon in order to compare and contrast it with the fictional work. Weir does claim to have been inspired by the film “The Lion in Winter” so I’m not too far off the mark in wanting to watch the dvd…

Oh, and for those Phillippa Gregory fans out there, I have just started her “The White Queen” so watch this space…


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