In The Gown we are treated to a unique perspective of post-World War II (1947) England through the eyes of two young women. Ann Hughes is the chief embroiderer in the fashion house of Hartnell, a designer most often called upon to furnish gowns and dresses for Britain’s Royal Family. When news reaches the workroom of Princess Elizabeth’s engagement, everyone on staff is in a state of high anticipation as they wait to see if Mr. Hartnell’s design will be the one chosen for the royal wedding gown. In fact, it was Ann who was called upon to create samples for the Queen Mum and the young princess.
Working alongside Ann is Miriam Dassin, a refugee from France. Miriam has experienced firsthand the atrocities of war: losing her family, working in the Resistance, and ultimately being confined to a death camp before Liberation. She has gathered her meager belongings and set her sights on London as the place to make a fresh start. Miriam has experience as an embroiderer in the Maison Bebe and a handful of important references. Norman Hartnell hires her on the spot.
As they work together Ann and Miriam become friends and when Ann’s sister-in-law moves to Canada, Ann invites Miriam to move into her house and share expenses. Over the course of a year, their friendship grows. Fast forward to 2016 and Heather McKenzie is in Toronto mourning the death of her grandmother, Ann Hughes, and is delighted to receive a box marked For Heather that was left to her. Inside she finds samples of intricate embroidery that lead her on a journey of discovery – back to London.
Seems that Heather’s grandmother never spoke a word of her past before moving to Toronto. What she uncovers both amazes and thrills her even as it opens a new path for her life.
Post war Britain suffered greatly; food and petrol shortages being among the worst as Britain went about the task of rebuilding not only her physical structures but the structures of people’s lives. With the entire country under an austerity program, the nuptials of Princess Elizabeth became a beacon of hope for the war-weary Brits. But with an austerity program in place, how could the cost of a royal wedding gown be condoned? Resourceful Brits didn’t mind in the least.
But this story is about so much more than the Royal Wedding. It is a story of grit and determination of the young women who were left without family or spouses after the war. It is the story of hard work and self-reliant women who found a way to move forward. It’s also the story of unscrupulous people who would do anything to earn a few extra dollars.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Gown for several reasons, not the least being my fondness for anything that centers around the British Royal Family. We are accustomed to seeing what the media shows us and it is normally from only one point of view. But getting a glimpse of the Royals from the vantage point of an embroiderer is totally unique. The setting of post-war Britain is one of my favorite time periods and it shows the resilience of her people. The characters of Ann and Miriam are strong women who have their moments of self-doubt and that makes them wonderfully human. The granddaughter too is quite likeable and it’s easy to see that she has inherited some of her grandmother’s traits.
Fans of the Royal Family and of historical fiction/romance are sure to enjoy this one as will those who enjoy family sagas.
RATING: 5 stars
#London #RoyalWedding #RoyalFamily #WorldWarII #postwarera #embroidery #JenniferDobson #HouseofHartnell #high fashion #MiriamDassin #AnnHughes