Not My Father’s Son By Alan Cumming 2014 . A Review by John Cook

not-my-fathers-son

I am obviously a late comer to Alan Cumming’s fame. He has a massive bio in stage, screen and TV acting and presenting but I was largely unaware of him until seeing the 2012 production ‘Urban Secrets’ in which he frankly was a little irritating – nor can I remember him from ‘Taggart’. So this book was very much an interesting wake-up call for me. While I have read plenty of biographies, I have never read one that structurally incorporates a TV program much less one as well-known as WDYTYA (Who Do You Think You Are to the uninitiated). Further, I cannot remember reading a bio that was more transparent than this especially in terms of its English and expression which was at all times utterly simple and clear without losing any impact – and there was plenty of that! Born a Scot, Alan Cumming is very much an internationalist and is nowadays based in New York married to his partner Grant Shaffer.

 

This autobiography focuses very much on two paternal issues, his father and his grandfather. The pickings on his daily life and loves are adequate but not detailed. He does incorporate material on his professional acting life including that current at writing. Unfortunately, a lot of it had limited meaning for me as I have never seen him on stage and, as mentioned above, I have had limited exposure to his work on TV and film.

 

I saw the episode of WDYTYA when it originally screened and enjoyed it (as I do most) and watched it again on repeat while reading this book. It was a typical tale of a ‘lost’ grand parent about whom little was known. The series process unveiled what could be found in its usual mix of meetings with experts and individual sources, field encounters and overseas visits. There is a well-managed process of uplifting as Cumming digs into his grandfather Thomas Darling’s splendid war record in multiple theatres – then comes the emergence of troubling features of his psychological make-up (Tam the soldier was a physically sizable, handsome man’s man). This reaches its peak as the true nature of his manner of death is revealed as death by Russian roulette. There is some final amelioration as Norton is presented with clear evidence of the respect and appreciation accorded him by the community in which he died.

 

It was quite fascinating to see how the original contact for the programme was made and how it was built over a period of time at different locations. Cummings even incorporates some of the personal relationships he developed with the production team, while also putting into words the emotions that are seen on his face when new information is revealed to him on camera. It was interesting to be told that while much is obviously set up for the cameras, the subjects on the programme are genuinely revealed new information live on camera – part of its undoubted appeal.

 

What I did not know before reading this book (and no reference in the TV show) was that he was simultaneously dealing with another familiar issue of very great import. Cumming reveals in the book that while had a reasonable upbringing in a magnificent environment (the Panmure estate in Carnoustie, Scotland) his father treated him badly, callously, even viciously, both physically and psychologically. How could any man allow his son to feel complicit in his father’s serial adultery?

 

The truly tortured nature of that relationship and how it was nested in other more positively ones  (his gran, mother and brother) along with his search for his true sexuality is spelled out quite clearly without over-emotionalising or self-pity. As the title indicates, at the key time of filming the TV programme and all that meant to Cumming emotionally, his father drops the devastating near-death claim that he had always believed that Cumming was not his son and that his mother had been unfaithful thus ‘explaining’ his harsh, disinterested behaviour towards him. The issue is resolved in a manner that brings Cumming’s father no credit and offers the author an opportunity along with the fruits of the WDYTYA programme to re-examine his past, evaluate his present condition and continue to plan positively for the future

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s