Conrad Black is beginning to occupy as much shelf space as some of the historical figures he admires. The subject of at least five biographies (one penned by himself), Black is now featured both in a new book and an upcoming made-for-TV movie just months before he is scheduled to appear in a Chicago courtroom on criminal charges.
In Conrad and Lady Black: Dancing on the Edge, British author Tom Bower does what he does best: dredge up scandalous anecdotes, then publish them without mercy. The contemptuous tone is one usually reserved for books about Joseph Stalin, and may elicit sympathy for its targets. Bower portrays Black as being so greedy and dishonest he would do anything to finance an opulent lifestyle. “The aberration of his life is that none of his heroes Roosevelt, Lincoln, Thatcher would have been caught up in such sordid events,” Bower sniffs. Black's wife Barbara Amiel endures the worst: Tales of cruelty to servants, alleged dalliances, unrestrained extravagance and erratic behaviour are recounted with gusto. Woven amid the schadenfreude is the most readable account yet of Black's evolution. One is left with the impression that Black and Amiel acquired many enemies over the decades and Bower apparently spoke to all of them.
The new boob-tube biopic, Shades of Black, is sympathetic by comparison. It revolves around a series of fictional encounters between Black (portrayed by actor Albert Schultz) and a man posing as a reporter, played by Jason Priestly. A loosely factual account of Black's career ensues. Schultz's somewhat portly, ungainly Black is not nearly pompous enough to do his subject justice; his verbosity is insufficiently overwrought. Amiel (played by an adequately pulchritudinous Lara Flynn Boyle, who is three decades younger than Amiel) appears cold and spendthrift, but lacks the neurotic villainy Bower ascribes to her.
While loosely based on journalist Richard Siklos's capable book of the same name, Shades of Black takes many liberties. Black's notorious “rights of nobility” quip is delivered at a shareholder meeting, whereas in reality Black wrote it in a private e-mail. And Priestly's character gets away with claiming employment at Black's first paper, the Sherbrooke Guardian. (No such entity exists, though Black once owned the Sherbrooke Record). Shades of Black airs on CTV on Dec. 4.