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Anne Somerset's biography of Queen Anne, ripe for Hollywood?

MoviesBritainJenny McCarthyLiz SmithMelissa McCarthyGilmore Girls (tv program)Howard Stern

"I ONLY read Liz Smith if her column is visible when I change the paper in the birdcage."

"Doesn't that scare the bird?"

So went an online exchange in response to an article in the Huffington Post about how "everybody" got it wrong regarding Melissa McCarthy's new movie, "Tammy." It's not such a flop. (It's "doing fine," says the studio.)

However, the only "review" mentioned was mine -- and I considered it advice rather than a critique. No quotes from some of the more savage reviews or the postmortems on "Tammy" were noted. These said the same thing I did -- that it's time for Miss McCarthy to change her image a bit. The writer included only one sentence of what I wrote. Here it is in its entirety:

"OK. Melissa McCarthy has made her point. Comic women can be as outrageous and gross and sloppy as any man. She is to be commended for going for broke with her characters. She is a very talented actor.

But the poor reviews and so-so box office reception of 'Tammy' should be McCarthy's farewell to this aspect of her career and image.

It's time to temper the vulgarity and stupidity of the persona that (no denying) has made her a big movie star. But every film since 'Bridesmaids,' which garnered an Oscar nod for her, has been a step down. 'Tammy' is the nadir. I won't -- I couldn't -- criticize her as ruthlessly as some, because I do see her charm. However, every star who has a good sense of how the wind blows, realizes that change is often a good thing, after one has stamped a formidable screen image.

It doesn't have to be radical -- I'm not suggesting Melissa abandon her sense of fun. After all, she began her career as a stand-up comedienne. That's always going to be a part of her. A return to the gentler humor of the TV show 'Gilmore Girls,' or even her current series 'Mike and Molly' (although that, too, is rife with comedy on bodily functions, etc.), wouldn't be a bad idea.

She is strong and immensely appealing. Melissa should choose her next roles with some realization that in this world of hyper, super-instant everything, people become bored much sooner. With gadgets, with music, with fashion and with stars."

Wow -- what a monster I am, calling her talented and appealing! Off with my head. Of course, some of the responses to this piece referred to my great age, and my being "out of it." But I have been writing gossip since it was scribbled on cave walls, so I am used to that ageist stuff. I liked our opening quote best.

Thank you to writer Christopher Rosen. By making it seem that I and I alone criticized Melissa and that her career might hang in the balance because of that, you made me feel ... very important!

Now, I have to go change the paper in my birdcage.

I HAVE often wondered how the British Empire survived its various permutations, family crises, monarchs without heirs, monarchs with too many heirs, mad heirs, Stuarts, Tudors, Hanoverians, Windsors, Whigs, Tories, Catholics, Protestants, that old reprobate Henry VIII and his daughter, Elizabeth -- who dithered grandly for many years.

And let's not even get onto more modern times -- abdications for "the woman I love" and rebellious princesses who rocked royalty to its foundation.

I mulled all this while reading Anne Somerset's "Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion," her 2013 biography on Queen Anne, the first female ruler of the "modern" age. She was actually the ruler of Britain, Scotland and Ireland after the Stuarts. Anne has not been especially well thought of by historians. By the time she ascended the throne at age 37, bedeviled by terrible health problems, including 17 shattering pregnancies, most of which ended in stillbirths or miscarriages, she was no longer a beauty. She gave birth to only three living children, none survived long. But despite shyness, a lack of wit and complex thought processes, she was a good, steadfast, faithful ruler, who took her duties seriously (despite agonizing pain, she attended Parliament more than any other monarch.)

Writer Somerset succeeds at heightening our regard for Anne, but this is a hard read, dense and excessively detailed. However, it is enlivened, shot through, with a fantastic tale of Anne's passionate friendship with lowly-born Sarah Churchill, whom in time Queen Anne would raise high, only to find herself betrayed, excoriated and publicly humiliated by a woman who was clearly more than half mad. The letters that exist between the two display the emotional, intense friendships so common to women in past eras -- they gave each other pet names. Sarah Churchill, however, once she'd decided the Queen was her enemy, strongly suggested she never cared for Anne and indeed the Queen's interest in her was "perverse." (Anne's patience, forbearance and willingness to forgive her dear friend is heartrending.)

There's also another favorite, one Abigail Masham, who drove Sarah to further fits of jealously and near-treasonous detestation. (Sarah -- who literally attempted to blackmail Anne with the publication of their youthful missives -- and her husband, the Duke of Marlborough, would have both been beheaded just a half-century previously.)

This is a valuable glimpse into English political machinations, but the Sarah/Anne/Abigail tale is riveting and meant to be cinematically captured. It would make a fabulous movie!

P.S. And we have two possible future kings of England -- Princes William and George -- on the cover of Vanity Fair this month, with the beautiful Duchess of Cambridge beaming at them!

ENDQUOTES: "I hate celebrities!" That's Jenny McCarthy former Playboy centerfold/actress, controversial anti-vaccine activist and recently booted co-host of "The View." She told this to Howard Stern -- a celebrity. She will have to explain herself to her intended, actor Donnie Wahlberg -- a celebrity. She'll also have to explain herself to herself. I love celebrities! They say such amazing things.

Also, in Glamour magazine actress Anna Kendrick declares she has never "traded on her looks. ... It's never been my moneymaker." She's very glad she'll never be one of People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful.

But the quite attractive Anna tells this to Glamour and then poses for several pages of fashion, beautifully dressed, posed and re-touched (or Photoshopped, as they call it these days.) Soooo ... she is trading on looks somewhat. Not that that's a bad thing.

Now, Tilda Swinton. She really doesn't trade on her looks. She can be striking, but she'd rather not.

(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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