When I was a child I would wake up on Christmas morning, unwrap my Christmas stocking like an anteater attacking an anthill and when that was done, locate the Toblerone bar (just one, and not a family size one either) and whichever Biggles book had been delivered that year. It was an indulgence that shaped my life. Thank God for parents who didn’t buy books based on gender – I got my first Sci-Fi age seven or eight too, and between war aces and robots I had absolutely no idea I wasn’t supposed to read, and write, whatever the f*** I wanted.
This year it was a box of hand-made chocolates and As You Wish by Cary Elwes and I waited until Christmas night to indulge in both – my tastes have definitely refined, although I can’t say they’ve elevated, because I see nothing wrong with Biggles (the racism and sexism are simply reflections of the period and didn’t influence me) or Toblerone for breakfast once a year.
Like just about everybody I’ve ever spoken to, I first saw The Princess Bride on video. It’s an odd story – we lived near another yuppie couple; she ran a branch of MacDonald’s, he ran a branch of Blockbuster, I was running a small charity, Tony was managing a team of mystery shoppers… Looking back we were probably all quite vile. We had a small child, they had a tiny baby. We all worked ridiculous hours to pay for minuscule houses in South London. He introduced us to The Princess Bride. Nothing odd about that, you may say. He though, turned out to be a fabulist. He ended up robbing the charity shop he was running (a long story) and skipping out on wife and child (a longer story) and ending up in prison (a story I don’t fully know). Still, he introduced us to The Princess Bride.
It became one of those films we watched when one of us was ill, when none of us could agree on what to watch and on those days when it was necessary NOT to watch The Wizard of Oz or the Only Fools And Horses Christmas Special ever again. Yes, we can do all the dialogue.
Cary Elwes’ book can be read at a single sitting. I did it, even with constant digressions to the Internet to fact-check (Samuel Beckett, Christopher Guest and Norman Lear just three investigations I had to conduct). It is reminiscent of David Niven’s charming books The Moon’s A Ballon and Bring On The Empty Horses. Elwes makes no secret of having a collaborator (which pleases me, as most celebrities won’t share the credit for their best sellers) and as a result the book is an honest and well-crafted account of the filming of a cult classic. Elwes himself comes across as charming, gifted and wholly in love with his industry; he’s a typical film nerd, but in this case a film nerd who actually starred in the film.
Call-out boxes with side views on the history of the film from others involved make this a rounded account of film production (for a polemic on film production, read William Goldman’s own work – it’s scathing) and for those who adore Westley, Inigo, Fezzik and the cast of villains there will be some nugget that delights.
There is no reason to ‘get used to disappointment’ – as a Christmas indulgence it’s wonderful, as a loving homage to a much loved film, it’s perfectly judged and for those who love The Princess Bride it’s a must have.