This Much is True, Miriam Margolyes

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

Sometime around 2012 we were lucky enough to catch Miriam Margolyes performing Dickens' Women at Her Majesty's Theatre in Ballarat. A one person show, with pianist, written by Margolyes and Sonia Fraser, she commanded the stage, effortlessly shifting through 23 different characters, based on or inspired by 21 women and 2 men in Dickens' novels. An admirer of Dickens work, at no stage did the performance shirk from the less savoury aspects of his life, his obsession with youthful beauty, his "odd" relationships with sister-in-law, and, in Margolyes' own words from an interview in The Lumiere Reader in 2007 (accessible via the waybackmachine:…):

The characters are based on real women in Dickens’ life and where they parallel with his fictional characters. I love the contrast between the goodness of the prose and the badness of the man. His daughter once said ‘he was a very wicked man’ and no-one seems to know that but they will after they see my show.

That ability to see contrast, and a willingness to forgive some transgressions and refuse to accept others, is very much the Margolyes way. As is, one suspects, a somewhat cheeky attitude towards shocking others, and an unrelenting desire to tell the unvarnished, uncensored truth. About everything. 

I had the great, unmitigated joy of listening to Margolyes read the story of her life, and blessed, as she is, with the elocution and vowels of much work (instigated by her mother), her voice is captivating, as is her ability to switch between accents at the drop of page. Her background as a voice actress and in voiceover work (including a stint in soft-porn), to say nothing of the more well-known (and very different from that) roles in Harry Potter or Fly in the movie Babe, provides her with all the tools required to do an admirable, and very engaging audio version of her own autobiography. Her life provides her with much fodder for the story itself.

It might be fairest to potential readers of this autobiography to point out a few things - if you come to this as a fan of Fly, or Professor Pomona Sprout, knowing little else about Margolyes, and you are likely to be offended by explicit sexual content (of the relieving of men kind somewhat surprisingly for an avowed lesbian like the author), then might be best to avoid. If you're also not a fan of somebody who calls a spade an f***ing shovel, you may be best to skip by. Margolyes is not one to toy with people's "sensibilities". She's not a fan of prudes, and she's not a fan of beating about the bush. One finds it very hard to imagine that back in the days of the Cambridge Footlights, that a particular set of very badly behaved men could not have known of their transgressions, Margolyes is not one to muck about if you've pissed her off.

I think that's what I loved most about this entire audio book. Here is a woman who can be bad-tempered, makes mistakes, swears fluently and enthusiastically (a woman after my own heart) and is totally and utterly unapologetic about it. She's also not in denial about who or what or how she's lived her life, and there is much in this book that goes to the heart of mistakes made, people transgressed against, and those who have transgressed against her. She doesn't pull any punches about just about everything. 

And it is because of all of the above that I loved every sweary, pointed, ridiculous, contradictory, unapologetic minute of it - including the soldier up a tree. I mean if you can't live your life as you bloody well want to when you're Miriam Margolyes, what hope is there for the rest of us. All power to her, her walking frame, her beautiful eyes, her beloved Heather and her career going forward.

Year of Publication

From Blackadder to Call the Midwife, from the Cadbury's Caramel Rabbit to Harry Potter, Miriam Margolyes is the outspoken great aunt (after two sherries) we all wish we had - this is (at last) her extraordinary life story, and it's well worth the wait.

Award-winning actor, creator of a myriad of memorable characters from Lady Whiteadder to Professor Sprout, Miriam Margolyes is a national treasure.

Now, at last, at the age of 80, she has finally decided to tell her extraordinary life story. And it's far richer and stranger than any part she's played.

Find out how being conceived in an air-raid gave her curly hair; what pranks led to her being known as the naughtiest girl Oxford High School ever had; how she ended up posing nude for Augustus John aged 17, being sent to Coventry by Monty Python and the Goodies and swearing on University Challenge (she was the first woman to say F--k on TV). This book is packed with unforgettable stories from why Bob Monkhouse was the best (male) kiss she's ever had to being told off by the queen. With a cast list stretching from Scorsese to Streisand, Leonardo di Caprio to Isaiah Berlin, This Much is True is as warm and honest, as full of life and surprises, as she is.

Review This Much is True, Miriam Margolyes
Karen Chisholm
Tuesday, February 21, 2023

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