Peter Bradshaw, Guardian film critic and ‘Night of Triumph’ author, talks the Queen and criminals at Brick Lane Bookshop
- Credit: Archant
Have you ever looked at the Queen and thought, ‘I know exactly what she’s thinking’? No, me neither, but Peter Bradshaw thinks he may have cracked it in his latest novel Night of Triumph.
His third book explores what may have happened the night the monarch - then just a 19-year-old princess - escaped the Palace with two guards and her sister Margaret to revel on the streets with her elated subjects on VE Day, 1945.
“I’m fascinated by this event,” Peter muses, “because she joined the armed services, learnt to drive a car, fixed engines, she was an intelligent, vibrant, young woman.
“She didn’t think she’d be doing this (waves) all her life. And I’m fascinated to get back to when she was this dynamic human being.
“It wasn’t a case of pretending to be a normal human being because she sort of still was.”
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Dressed in her military uniform, young Elizabeth embarks on an adventure and meets some bohemian and unsavoury characters along the way including Mr Ware, a sinister thief who made his fortune robbing houses destroyed during the Blitz, weaving in and out of the narrative, drawing ever closer to the princesses.
Peter continued: “Even people who were massively famous could still get away with it to a certain extent.
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“But there was also a culture a deference. I mean, people wouldn’t believe their eyes but it wouldn’t occur to them to go up and get the iPhone out for selfie.
“Firstly, you didn’t have the technology to do that in 1945, but they also didn’t have the culture that went with it.
“Churchill, all the way throughout his premiership and beyond, would walk between Downing Street through St James’ Park to Whitehall, brooding on affairs of state, and nobody would bother him.
“People would say, ‘Wow, did I just see Princess Elizabeth? Gosh, I must tell my wife that when I get home’, but that’s as far as it would go.”
The 1940s hold a particular fascination for Peter, he explains, and he read around the celebrations to try and capture its importance to people all over the world.
He said: “I remember when I was a child, the first image I saw of a full-on, tongues, French kiss, as opposed to a peck you see in movies, was in newsreel footage of VE night and I was kind of freaked out.
“All the stuff that had been on hold in people’s lives, they didn’t have an excuse not to think about it anymore. I felt it was about euphoria but it was also about anxiety.”
A short novel at 143 pages, Peter admits his day job as The Guardian’s film critic has lent a certain cinematic feel to his writing as he set out to write a page-turner that could be read in one sitting.
Soon, fans may also be able to watch the action while sitting as he’s currently in discussions with Amy Jenkins, screenwriter of 90s BBC drama This Life, to adapt the novel for TV around the 70th anniversary of VE Day in 2015.
But Peter insists he can control his critical urges and trust the crew to make a decent job of it.
He adds: “I hope I’ve got the humilty to know that, just because I sound off and hold forth about films every week in The Guardian, that doesn’t make me a film maker any more than, if I started writing about football, I’d be able to jump over the fence, run on to a field and score a goal.”
But in the immediate future - Thursday, September 19 - Peter will be delighting readers with his best Churchill impression as he reads from the first chapter of Night of Triumph, then answering questions, and signing copies at the Brick Lane Bookshop, a chance partnership made after the independent store started following him on Twitter.
“I saw it had a fascinating stock,” he said, “really interesting part of London, really great list of events every week, interesting authors and ideas. So I just emailed them and said hi.”