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Books you need to read this May

BY James Walton

4th May 2023 Book Reviews

Books you need to read this May

Tom Hanks fictionalises his life in the film industry, and a new authoritative biography explores King Charles III's life, in this month's recommended reads

The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece by Tom Hanks (Hutchinson Heinemann, £22)

Tom Hanks on film set about Apollo 13Tom Hanks transforms his life spent on film sets into a revealing piece of fiction

Glancing at the title and author’s name here, you might think you know exactly what you’re in for: a horse’s-mouth guide to how movies are made. As it turns out, however, you’d only be half-right.

Tom Hanks’s debut novel certainly delivers plenty of memorable trade secrets. Among much else, we learn that URST stands for the trusty plot device of “unresolved sexual tension”; and that film-shooting always begins on a Wednesday, giving everybody three days to prove themselves before those who don’t are sacked over the weekend.

But there’s also far more to the book than that.

For the first 80-odd pages, in fact, films are barely mentioned. Instead, we get a rather good portrait of late-1940s, small-town California where four-year-old Robby is already showing signs of artistic talent.

"Hanks admits that every character here 'does something I’ve experienced while making a movie'"

His mother’s brother then shows up on a motorbike trying hard to be a fond uncle, but clearly traumatised by his wartime experiences. And from there we cut to Robby’s time as a Sixties hippy who transforms his uncle’s sad story into an underground comic book.

Eventually, Hanks does arrive in present-day Hollywood where a seasoned director is using Robby’s book to give a big franchise film more depth than usual. But even then, the novel pauses for quite a while to provide generous backstories for the cast and crew.

Through all this, Hanks’s storytelling is surprisingly accomplished. But it also feels, if anything, a little over-generous, as yet another make-up artist or extra is given extended narrative attention.

Happily, any patience we’re required to show is amply rewarded—because once he moves on to what I suspect most of us are really after, Hanks is able to root his insider’s guide to film-making in thoroughly realised characters we’ve come to know, and generally to like.

With, that is, one big exception. In a mostly good-natured book, he has lots of mean fun with the astonishing narcissism of the leading man O K Bailey.

And of course, given Hanks’s admission that every character here “does something I’ve experienced while making a movie”, guessing who might have inspired Bailey is fun too.

Tom Hanks The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece book jacket

The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece is published by Hutchinson Heinemann, £22

Charles: Our King: The Man and the Monarch Revealed by Robert Jobson (John Blake, £22)

King Charles and reporterAs King Charles III prepares for his coronation, a new biography explores his life up to this momentous point

As a royal correspondent for 33 years, and the man who broke the news of Charles and Camilla’s engagement, Robert Jobson is well-placed to provide this timely biography of our soon-to-be-crowned monarch.

Sure enough, his new book—fully updated from an earlier one—is an absorbing, highly informed account of Charles’s life from birth (when his father described him as looking just like “a plum pudding”) to the past few months, when we’ve all had to get used to singing “God Save the King”.

What makes it particularly good, though, is how reliable it feels. Jobson clearly writes from a position of sympathy for Charles. But that doesn’t mean he sidesteps the more difficult elements of the story.

"Jobson largely shares Charles’s perspective without glossing over his mistakes"

The King’s childhood, for example, certainly wasn’t easy. His parents brought him up according to the upper class methods of the time, ie, they didn’t see him much. His famously grim days at Gordonstoun school were alleviated only by regular visits to his doting granny, the Queen Mother, in nearby Balmoral.

The slow-motion disaster of the marriage to Diana duly makes for especially painful reading, with both parties spending the days before their “fairytale wedding” wishing there was some way to call it off.

More recently, there’s been the rupture with Harry—where, again, Jobson largely shares Charles’s perspective without glossing over his mistakes.

Overall, the King comes across as a fundamentally decent man, who even in the toughest of circumstances has tried to do his best.

There seems no doubt either that his relationship with Prince Philip grew increasingly warm in later life—and that his love and admiration for his mother the Queen never wavered, as we saw in the summer of 2022…

"The celebrations to honour the monarch for her Platinum Jubilee culminated in a four-day bank holiday weekend on June 2-5.

It included everything from street parties across the country to Trooping the Colour and a star-studded concert led by Diana Ross, as well as a final balcony appearance by the Queen herself. But she was not strong enough to make them all.

Charles paid tribute to his mother at the BBC’s Platinum Party at the Palace, where he began his address, ‘Your Majesty, Mummy’. Thanking her for a ‘lifetime of selfless service’, he told her during the televised concert, ‘You continue to make history’.

Referring to the Queen’s absence from the celebrations, after she was said to have experienced ‘some discomfort’ during Trooping the Colour two days earlier, he said, ‘We might have been celebrating that Derby winner this evening… next year perhaps?’

Then, addressing the crowd, he added, ‘But I know what really gets my mother up in the morning is all of you—watching at home. Represented here tonight in this great audience’.

Behind the scenes, the Queen had been feeling very frail. Her doctors said the earlier appearances on Thursday, when she took the salute and watched the fly-past during the Trooping the Colour ceremony, and her second appearance later that day as she triggered the lighting of the principal Jubilee beacon at Windsor Castle, had taken their toll.

"It was to be her final salute to her people"

Her Majesty had previously filmed the highly acclaimed TV sketch of a computer-generated Paddington Bear taking afternoon tea with her and thanking her ‘for everything’.

Charles felt it was imperative, for history, that the Queen acknowledge the crowds with a wave from the Buckingham Palace balcony at the end of the jubilee celebrations.

He implored her to make the appearance and a military-style exercise was put in place to ensure—on her insistence—that she made it without being seen in public or by the press in the wheelchair she had to use.

Ever the stalwart, and in considerable discomfort, Her Majesty was taken by wheelchair to the helicopter pad at Windsor and, after it landed at the palace, taken again by wheelchair right to the balcony door, before being helped to her feet so that she could stand alongside the other royals.

It took real strength and courage for her to do so. She wore an emerald double crepe wool dress and coat, adorned with the Bow Brooch, finished off with a hat with a black pompom, pearl jewellery and white gloves, so that she could be seen by the cheering crowd.

Bravely holding on to her walking stick, the Queen stood on the balcony alongside Charles and Prince George, flanked by William and Catherine, Charlotte, Louis and Camilla.

After the family and the flag-waving crowd packed along The Mall sang ‘God Save the Queen’ enthusiastically, and a display of red, white and blue fireworks was launched from the Victoria Memorial, Queen Elizabeth II smiled with delight.

It was to be her final salute to her people."

King Charles: Our King: The Man and The Monarch by Robert Jobson book jacket

Charles: Our King: The Man and the Monarch Revealed is published by John Blake, £22

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