Liz and Dick. It was, for a while at least, the romance of the century. In 1962, when Burton and Taylor dodged their respective spouses while filming Cleopatra in Rome and began their melodramatic liaison, which included a suicide attempt (Elizabeth’s) and a condemnation from the Vatican, there ensued a paparazzi feeding frenzy the likes of which would not be seen again until the death of Princess Diana thirty-five years later. Even Brangelina has nothing on Liz and Dick. Burton was devastatingly attractive and virile, and was widely acknowledged as a great actor, the natural successor to Gielgud and Olivier. Taylor was, according to popular opinion, the most beautiful woman in the world. Even as a small child, hardly able to read, I was somehow made aware of the brouhaha.

Their elopement was romantic but the long-term picture was not pretty. The Burtons turned out to be not only the most...