Wished for Roles 14: Historical Figures

Lord Willingdon: A wonderful portrayal of an historical figure.

Having had fun covering our favorite Historical Figures played by Patrick Malahide, RFodchuk and I thought we’d have a go discussing some other real life historical characters that we’d love to see Mr. Malahide portray.  He gives a lot to his non-fiction roles by bringing his own experiences as well as by researching their real lives and finding ways to relate to them, such as his connection with Rev. Patrick Bronte as a father and Lord Willingdon’s love of sailing.

Admin:  My choice is….

Lord Palmerston

Who Was He?

Lord Palmerston.

Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom twice from 6 February 1855 – 19 February 1858 and 12 June 1859 – 18 October 1865.   He also served as Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary.

What Makes Him so Interesting?

Well, his legacy is certainly a massive one as he governed throughout the reign of Queen Victoria, clearly one of the most profoundly significant times in world history.  But, my interest in  him actually stems from his appearances in some highly enjoyable works of fiction.

An Opium Eater thriller.

He is a very important character in David Morrell’s  “Opium Eater” series of mystery thrillers featuring Thomas De Quincey (the “opium eater”) and his daughter Emily.  Emily is such a fun character.  She is an early champion of women’s rights and flouts convention by eschewing the popular (and deadly) hoop-skirt in favor of the radical (but more practical) “bloomer-skirt” preferred by the American women’s rights activist Amelia Bloomer.  With their Scotland Yard friends Ryan and Becker they solve crimes in what are some of the most adventurous, page turning books I have ever read. (Spoilers ahoy)

Lord Palmerston, essentially by order of the Queen, has Thomas and Emily living under his roof as semi-permanent guests.  He doesn’t especially like them, though he does develop a healthy respect and genuine friendship with them by the end of the series.  Initially he finds Thomas De Quincey’s bizarre fidgets which are brought on by his opium addiction to be extremely irritating.  I can’t blame him there.

Patrick Malahide as Sir John Conroy: Victoria & Albert

They called him “Lord Cupid”

Morrell sometimes uses Palmerston’s reputation as a playboy (which in part helped earn him the nickname Lord Cupid) to enhance the plot.  He meets with a beautiful actress/espionage agent in full-view of the prying press.  They pretend to canoodle as she whispers top-level secrets into his shell-like.  It is perfectly hilarious, but establishes him as a fun, unconventional, and highly entertaining character.

While he spends much of the time fuming over his weirdo house guests, he does at times get directly involved in the action, even going so far as to risk his own life for the Queen herself.  His near sacrifice is very touching as he clearly loves and respects Victoria, though she personally dislikes him for his womanizing ways.

The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner

Lord Palmerston also appears in statue form in Sir Terry Pratchett’s charming tale “The Blackbury Park Statues”  from his short-story collection “The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner“.   It is a very sweet story.  A group of statues are saddened when an old lady passes away and therefore stops visiting their park.  They learn she was once an influential suffragette, so they decide to contact the National Trust to see if a statue could be put up of her.  The statue of Lord Palmerston takes the lead and actually makes the phone call himself.  He is amused to learn that she once threw eggs at a Prime Minister and was glad he didn’t serve during the suffrage movement.

The statues’ plan works and a monument is put up, but instead of the sweet old lady they knew, it is of her when she was a young protester.  That night, when they were all able to come to life without anyone seeing, she dances with Lord Palmerston under the full moon.  Awwwwww!

Why Would Mr. Malahide Be Perfect?

Patrick Malahide as Sir John Conroy: Victoria & Albert

He looks great with sideburns.

He looks great with sideburns!  Well, that and I think Patrick Malahide would be able to play up all of Lord Palmerston’s good qualities, charisma and leadership while also being fully able to confront his shortcomings.  His reforms were impressive and he was clearly a passionate, caring man.

I think this quote from Florence Nightingale illustrates why he would be a very interesting character for Mr. Malahide to portray:

Yep, she seems to be a good pupil: "She handled a pistol like a man."

He was a bit jokey, but did the right thing.

He will be a great loss to us. Tho’ he made a joke when asked to do the right thing, he always did it. No one else will be able to carry things thro’ the Cabinet as he did. I shall lose a powerful protector…He was so much more in earnest than he appeared. He did not do himself justice.

The combination of decency and a jokey sense of humour is obviously an entertaining one, and I have no doubt whatsoever that Mr. Malahide would nail it completely while bringing in his own humour and empathy.

What Sort of Production Would It Be?

Situation looks bad... Better save himself...

He has already brought a page turner to life.

I certainly would love to see the Opium-Eater books brought to life.  David Morrell’s writing is engaging and lively.  He works in massive amounts of real history, some of it dark, while also maintaining a completely bonkers (in a good energetic way; not a daft way) sense of adventure.  Our heroes have that wonderful tendency to jump from the frying pan into the fire over and over again.  Morrell’s writing makes me think of Edgar Rice Burroughs and John Buchan in that regard.  Well, Mr. Malahide has already proven he can work a Buchan production (ie, “The 39 Steps“), so why not this?

Patrick Malahide as Sir John Conroy: Victoria & Albert

He had a complex relationship with Victoria.

Of course, it wouldn’t have to be the Opium Eater books only.  Lord Palmerston being such a significant figure during Victoria’s reign could easily appear in any number of speculative alt-history, steampunk type productions.

At any rate, I think I would prefer a more fictionalized account than a straight-up bio-pic. There have been enough bio-pics involving Queen Victoria, after all  😉  You can have more fun, romance and adventure with a fictionalized version, and Lord Palmerston being both disliked and admired by Queen Victoria is an ideal character for a bonkers Victorian adventure.

RF:  And my choice is…

Sir Archibald Hector McIndoe

Who Was He?

Sir Archibald McIndoe<br>(Image source: mcindoememorial.com)

Sir Archibald McIndoe
(Image source: mcindoememorial.com)

Sir Archibald McIndoe was a pioneering New Zealand plastic surgeon who developed many ground-breaking techniques in plastic surgery and the treatment of burns during World War II.  Prior to World War II, he couldn’t find work teaching anatomy, so he branched into plastic surgery – a circumstance which changed the lives of many burned airmen.  Many of his techniques are still in use today.

What Makes Him so Interesting?

McIndoe and some of his Guinea Pigs<br>(Image source: stuff.co.nz)

McIndoe and some of his Guinea Pigs
(Image source: stuff.co.nz)

McIndoe was unusual at the time for bucking many of the conventions and regulations set down by the Royal Air Force.  He founded a specialized burns unit at Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, Sussex for the treatment of burned airmen and set about doing things his way.  He discarded the concept of “convalescent uniforms”, allowing patients to wear their own uniforms around hospital grounds and when they went on visits to the nearby town, so that they felt more at ease.  He encouraged the local population not to stare, but to interact with the airmen as normally as possible and support them as human beings in need of kindness.  He wanted his patients to have as ordinary an environment as possible to reduce their self-consciousness and embarrassment out in the “real world”.  He also apparently ran a very informal ship, quite unlike what most patients were used to; kegs of beer were permitted on the wards.  And on top of all that, he (and other colleagues like Albert Ross Tilley) developed innovative surgeries and treatments that helped give badly burned airmen their hands and faces back.  McIndoe recognized how much the airmen’s appearances affected their identity and morale.

Geoffrey Page's <i>Tale of a Guinea Pig</i><br>(Image source: amazon.com)

Tale of a Guinea Pig
(Image source: amazon.com)

Burned airmen who came under McIndoe’s care formed an informal group called “The Guinea Pig Club“, which probably contributed to their healing almost as much as McIndoe and his staff.  The patients referred to themselves as “guinea pigs” because they knew quite well that many of McIndoe’s techniques were experimental, but they were willing to try anything to look “normal” once again.  They provided each other with mutual support as well as a lot of good-natured ribbing, gallows humour, and conversation while they dealt with their recuperation.  I first became acquainted with McIndoe’s work through Geoffrey Page’s autobiographical Tale of a Guinea Pig, and later, Richard Hillary’s The Last Enemy, and I found he and his patients to be compelling and fascinating; both books are well worth reading.  McIndoe continued to keep in touch with his “Guinea Pigs” long after the war, and the surviving members still met every year up until 2007., when their ranks became too thinned.

Why Would Mr. Malahide Be Perfect?

Mr. Ryder has the right sort of "maverick genius" quality that could apply to Sir Archibald

Mr. Ryder has the right sort of “maverick genius” quality
that could apply to Sir Archibald

I think Mr. Malahide could bring the right sort of maverick quality to McIndoe, who wounds like one of the original out-of-the-box thinkers.  It would be interesting to see him (as McIndoe) explaining his somewhat unorthodox patient care techniques and surgical innovations to RAF higher-ups.  There would probably be a temptation for most writers to insert some ho-hum drama at this point (“Do things by the book or you’re out, McIndoe!”), but I really hope that could be avoided.  Sir Archibald is interesting enough in his own right, and he and his patients are dealing with such life-encompassing events, that artificial drama really wouldn’t be needed.  It sounds like the real McIndoe had a great sense of humour, too, which I’m sure Mr. Malahide could convey extremely well.

I also believe Mr. Malahide could bring the right sort of compassion and caring to the role.  McIndoe cared deeply about his patients and referred to them as “his boys”, while his staff called him “the Boss” or “the Maestro”.  He cared about his patients’ lives after they were released from hospital and put some effort into helping them adjust; what would nowadays be called occupational therapy or rehabilitation.  He knew there was a lot more work to be done once they left the hospital’s relatively safe environment and were on their own.  He even helped some of his patients resume careers in the RAF.

What Sort of Production Would It Be?

Hopefully Flt Lt Mike Kelly will never be one of McIndoe's patients

Hopefully Flt Lt Mike Kelly will never be one of
McIndoe’s patients

There are loads of books about McIndoe and his patients to go on, including books about the Guinea Pig Club.  If I was running things (haa!), I’d prefer to avoid clichéd drama as much as possible while emphasizing McIndoe’s creativity, compassion, regard for his patients as human beings, and the intelligence and drive that led him to develop new techniques.  I also wouldn’t mind the chance to see Mr. Malahide in a Forties/World War II milieu again, and I’m sure he could perform a convincing New Zealand accent (if McIndoe had one).  I just think McIndoe would be a fascinating character for Mr. Malahide to portray.

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