There have been many biographies of Vivien Leigh, invariably Hollywood filmographies, most of which have been inaccurate and incomplete. Hugo Vickers approached his subject as a human being, according her the same detailed research that the readers of his Cecil Beaton and Gladys, Duchess of Marlborough have come to expect of him. He examined the previously uncharted story of Vivien Leigh's antecedents, making surprising new discoveries. He was able to bring Vivien's parents to life as real people with the help of a great number of family documents, letters and diaries, made available by Vivien's daughter for the first time. These give the first clear account of the atmosphere in which Vivien was raised.
He traced the progress of her relationship with Leigh Holman, from their first meeting through the period of their engagement, marriage and divorce, and showed how they formed an important, lasting friendship, helped by the complete set of letters Vivien wrote to him between 1932 and 1967. He made extensive use of the Oswald Frewen diaries, an essential source not only on that marriage but on Vivien's elopement with Laurence Olivier and their subsequent adventures.
Hugo Vickers also examined Vivien's film and stage career, writing of her as a person and not as the 'property' of a film company or a name on a contract. He examined her films and drawing on a great number of interviews with famous figures of the stage, he recreated her part in the life of English theatre in the 1940s and 1950s. An important feature of the book is, of course, her love for Laurence Olivier and their twenty year marriage, so much of it made difficult by recurring bouts of tuberculosis and manic depression. Hugo Vickers, drawing on many hours of conversation with her devoted friend, the actor John Merivale, explained how Vivien re-established her life after the divorce.
Vivien Leigh emerges as a more real and more intelligent person than in previous accounts, a spirited and courageous actress brought down by ill-health.