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Last updated: May 5, 2012 12:07 am
I was at the cinema seeing The Pirates!, the recent animated film, with my smallest child. We were cosy under a pile of coats. Crumbs of popcorn cascaded down on to our laps like snow, half salt, half sweet. I had a delicious snooze. The cinema is one of the few places I can sleep these days.
When I woke it struck me that these pirates had surprisingly delicate sensibilities. They were in the habit of picking one another up on their behaviour. Who knew that even those embarked on a life of thrill-seeking swash and buckle on the high seas are not immune to friendship disputes?
Rather reassuring somehow.
At one point a less senior pirate remonstrated with the charming but arrogant captain: “Look, you can’t just ride roughshod over everyone’s feelings and then say ‘Aargh!’ and hope that it will make everything all right.” (Or words to that effect.) For a moment I imagined the same complaint on the problem page of The Pirates’ Gazette. Would the Agony Aunt be of the caustic variety? “Dear Unjolly Roger, Your friend is a pirate. This is what pirates do. Get. Over. Yourself.”
I tried to imagine what the other problems on the page might be. For example, do genuine pirates object to the use of the word “piracy” to denote illegal film and music sharing, as a sort of cheapening of the brand, if you like? It’s not impossible.
And then a strange thing happened. Suddenly the film began to ride roughshod over the reputation of a certain historical figure. I had that prickling sensation that a growing awareness of injustice often provokes in me.
I shook my head. I almost stood up. “You can’t just do that,” I protested to the screen through a mouthful of popcorn. “She is still someone’s great great grandmother. So maybe the dead can’t be slandered in the eyes of the law but it doesn’t make it right.” And who was this vulnerable matron to whose defence I was leaping? Queen Victoria, that’s who.
In the film she was shown to be vicious and cunning and deceitful and manipulative. With that I had no grouse. We are none of us perfect and these things happen in the best homes in the land. Oh indeedy, yes. But in this film the august monarch was also shown to be happy only when eating extremely rare species that she procured for fellow crowned heads of Europe with a regal, culinary ta-dah!
Now, I care about animals a lot less than the next person. It bugs me that they cannot chat. I almost take it personally. But to accuse a former monarch of procuring breeds so rare as to be almost extinct for her fine dining did not sit well with me. In truth – morally, artistically, in every way – this depiction grated on me sorely.
I went out into the foyer and telephoned a friend who teaches history at a blue-stocking establishment with marble floors. I didn’t want to influence her answer so I opted for a casual tone.
“So, Queen Victoria then.”
“Know what she liked eating or not?”
“I remember reading she was fond of chicken curry once.”
“Why do you ask?”
“Think she particularly liked serving/eating rare and borderline extinct species to her guests?”
“Not something I have ever read. Sounds awfully unlikely.”
“That’s what I thought.”
“I will tell you something though. I am pretty sure that after Albert died she turned vegetarian.”
“No! With grief?”
“Who’s to say?”
. . .
I went back into the film. “You know,” I whispered to my daughter, “you mustn’t take this film too seriously. At least it doesn’t seem to be true that Queen Victoria liked eating all these rare animals. Apparently, she was a vegetarian.
“And, you know, if she were my great grandmother, which would make me the Queen, which I’m obviously not but, but if I were, then I would certainly complain. And also, who’s to stop them making films about us one day, or our families, filled with lies?”
“Complain about the film not being true?” my daughter asked me gazing at the screen where animated pirates were cavorting and talking about treasure troves and their love of ham.
“Is it meant to be a non-fiction film then?” She twiddled her 3D glasses in a thoughtful way.
“Well ... well ... I don’t know but sometimes you can’t just say ‘Aargh!’ and make everything all right. All right?”
More columns at www.ft.com/boyt
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