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Charles II Reviews

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The Daily Mirror
December 2, 2003


Last Night's TV: Mistress gets King fired up

by Alun Palme

IIt must have been the first royal walkabout.

Like the Queen Mother in the Blitz, the King in Charles II, the Power And The Passion (BBC1) went walking through the rubble of London after the Great Fire.

Historically unlikely as it seemed, he went through the smouldering embers to greet his people when he was more likely never to have left his palace.

And, unlike his modern descendants, he didn't greet the great unwashed with jovial "Did you come fars?" or "And what do you do?"

"T'was the Papists and the Jesuits who caused it, sire," cried the populace.

And so, Alastair Campbell-like, they set about spinning the tragedy to find a scapegoat for the fire. "We must find someone to blame," said the King and so it was that some geezer burning his scones in Pudding Lane copped the blame.

We can only assume that someone is playing fast and loose with history here.

The King's former mistress Lady Castlemaine's fall from grace was complete.

To show her descent into depravity, she tried to raise the dead on a subject to whom a chemist's shop full of Viagra would be a lost cause. This wasn't so much a case of bashing the Bishop as, well, er...

But like Number Nine buses, as one royal mistress goes another is bound to turn up in a minute.

She came in the delectable form of Nell Gwynne, a former whore turned Cockney actress appearing in the 18th-century version of EastEnders.

"I warn you," she cooed, before allowing the Royal command to get its performance. "I want more than a quick pleasuring and a few trinkets for my trouble.

"But that's not to say I will say no to a few trinkets."

Charles II: The Power And The Passion may be as historically accurate as a Carry On film, but it is cracking drama.

Mirror: Shelly Vision 2/12
FUTILE REQUEST OF THE WEEK

"ALL I ask is that you live quietly and that you give me no more grief!" - Charles II to Lady Castlemaine, moments after she'd gone down on a bishop. A dead bishop.

Teletext review:
STAFFORD HILDRED ON LAST NIGHT'S TV

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Fanning the flames of passion and London

The Great Fire of London wasn't an easy event to recreate within the BBC1 budget for Charles II. And the highly-strung monarch looked ludicrous trying to put the blaze out himself.

The saga was on much safer ground as we moved on to see Nell Gwynn take over from the barking mad Lady Barbara Castlemaine as the King's nocturnal entertainment.

It's often hilarious but always enthralling with Rufus Sewell now going way over the top as Charles. But history was never nearly so much fun.

The Guardian
December 1, 2003

....A generation later - in Charles II - The Power and the Passion (BBC1, Sunday) - there was quite the conflagration. 'Twas 1666 and thus time for the Great Fire of London. History moves at quite a pace. It seems hardly any time at all since the Great Plague.

And so the CGI flames swept through the streets of London, further convincing us that the inferno should be the next Large Historical Event turned into a BBC multimedia extravaganza a la Pompeii (despite lacking the overseas sales potential of Vesuvius). There were religious zealots urging down the rain of fire. There were weary, simple folks watching their hovels blister and burn. There were wide-eyed urchins with no windows left against which to squash their famished faces. The stories to be told were manifold. Among them strode the king in what looked like a highly flammable, and hence ill-advised, wig. Charles, the message was clear, was a monarch willing to get his scalp singed to save the city. No fiddling while his Rome burned.

Of course, it didn't take long for him to resume fiddling - this time with playhouse creature, Nell Gwynne - but there were other things to consider. Before the ashes were cold, the sooty mob were blaming Papists and threatening a flare-up of a different kind. One of the king's advisers, most likely that bounder Buckingham, suggested they blame the Quakers instead. For a second, you thought he might just be on to something.

The mob was nothing compared with the Countess of Castlemaine. Rejected and ejected, she sailed furiously out of Charles's court, disappearing into bright white light, like a silken tornado. Upon her eviction, she warned a footman: "Touch as much as a candlestick and I will cut off your hands and hang them round your neck." This was surprisingly restrained. I had her down as more of a "bollocks for earrings" girl, but she had already bitten off a dead bishop's bits so was, perhaps, somewhat replete. Charles II will be a duller drama without Helen McCrory's electrifying presence.

Without her, we were left to muse upon the strange familiarity of Charles's story. Intent on finding justification for a war demanded by a rich ally where there was none, Charles and his advisers were insistent: "What parliament does not know need not trouble it." Their collective responsibility didn't last long and soon some of Charles's most trusted lieutenants were resigning, warning of continuing with such "risky adventures". This is not a tale that ends well.

 

Charles II ratings:
Sunday, November 16, 2003

BBC1's Charles II - the Power and the Passion held its own in the face of strong competition, watched by 6.1 million people and taking a 23% share of the viewing.


The Daily Mail
November 17, 2003
Embraced by History
Peter Paterson

History may justify it, but the sexual shenanigans of Rufus Sewell in the title role of Charles II: The Power and The Passion, last night meant that the focus was more on vigorous sexual passion than kingly power.

There’s an inevitable tension, of course, between Simon Schama-style history programmes and what happens when dramatists cover the same territory in search of entertainment.

The fear is that all sorts of wrong conclusions will penetrate the heads of young people, giving them a distorted idea of our national past. 

Its early days yet, but I thought author Adrian Hodges did a good job of penciling in the main political events surrounding the Restoration.

We shared Charles Stuart’s brothel-trotting in Antwerp, the almost miraculous process that brought him to the English throne, and the deal he reached with Parliament to end the nation’s ten-year experience of republicanism: the new king’s promise to reopen the theatres and allow music and dancing after all the Puritan grimness was particularly helpful.

There was also a scene of Charles conducting chemical experiments while wondering how to persuade the Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza – Shirley Henderson sporting an astonishing Widow Twanky hair-do – to consummate their marriage.  But Hodges was thus foreshadowing Charles II’s patronage of some remarkable scientific developments.

The most blatant liberty The power And The Passion took with history was to show a young Charles hiding under the scaffold in Whitehall as his father, Charles I, had his head cut off, the royal blood spattering his horrified features.

That never happened, of course, but it did dramatise Charles II’s hatred for the signatories to his father’s death warrant.

Despite an agreement that there should be no royal revenge against the lives and property of those who had served the republic, a dozen of the regicides were hung, drawn, and quartered.  Director Joe Wright duly delivered the full Technicolor butchery in lascivious detail, though we were spared the disinterment and gibbeting of the corpse of Oliver Cromwell.

But Hodges’s Charles kept reminding me of another ruler who appeared to rate passion above power-William Jefferson Clinton: The Merry President.  Even as Charles I’s murdered were going to the scaffold his son was felling their pain and declaring that there had been enough killing in England.  He had to close his ears to critics for fuller vengeance demanded by his mother, Queen Henrietta Maria, in pardoning some of his father’s judges.

Diana Rigg, as you’d expect, was superb as the Dowager Queen, an old crone nursing her bitterness, refusing even to visit her son Henry, dying of smallpox, on the grounds that he had forsaken the Roman Catholic faith for the official Church of England.  The analogy with Clinton popped up again with Charles’s hopeless inability to resist women.  The first of his paramours was Barbara Villiers, whose husband, Roger Palmer, was made Earl of Castlemaine as a thank you for donating his wife’s services to the king.

Later, Charles elevated her to Duchess of Cleveland, and generously bestowed titles on the sons she bore him, despite whispers that he might not have sired all three.

Helen McCrory, playing Villiers with enormous  gusto, made an utterly immoral and ruthless seductress, equally prepared to initiate the king’s illegitimate teenage son, James, Duke of Monmouth, and rollick with her royal master’s closest friend, the Duke of Buckingham (Rupert Graves), who was also her cousin.

She seems to have been capable of the most tiresome behaviour – today we’d call it nagging.   In one scene she threatened to dash out the brains of her baby on the spot if the king refused publicly to acknowledge the child as his, and, in another, petulantly complained to an exasperated Charles:  ‘I have no position – other than on my back.’

With a string of Charles’s mistresses lined up for rumpy-pumpy in the remaining episodes, there’s a danger that The Power And The Passion could topple into a Carry On Up The Restoration caper, or stray into the same sensationalist territory as another lavish BBC historical drama: remember The Borgias?  But so far, so good.

 

The Northern Echo: WEEKEND TV - Bed and bawd

HISTORY productions used to be a matter of big sets and even bigger costumes with actors declaiming like they were in Shakespeare. The endless procession of historical documentaries, with reconstructions and computer graphics, has changed all that.
Period drama has to be different. So, like the recent Henry VIII, the BBC's new four-parter, Charles II, feels the need to employ plenty of sex, violence and hand-held cameras - and to hell with the facts and think of the ratings if the merry monarch behaves like, well, one of today's royals.
It's difficult to watch shows about past kings and queens without imaging how the tabloids would treat them. What the butler would have seen in Charles II's day was a succession of women in the royal bedroom.The peasants, as is their wont, may have been revolting but King Charles - after a dream in which he was splattered with the blood of his poor old dad's severed head - was declaring:"I'm a king, I'll be ruled by no one". He was too busy fornicating and performing, or having performed upon him, other sexual acts to worry about politics or religion."You used to say I was the best, " said one of his conquests."I was only 13, I didn't have much to compare with, " came the reply.None of us, royal or not, have seen big hair like Queen Catharine's. It was as large as a small continent.
Rufus Sewell is having a ball as King Charles II, like some royal hotel inspector trying out bed and bawd. All this and Diana Rigg, without make-up, as mother, berating him with the comment: "You've always been weak."

The Box : Must See Romp
Sunday Mercury 
November 16, 2003

Charles II: The Power and the Passion BBC1, 9pm, Sunday

SUMPTUOUS costumes, a sexy, smouldering star and a colourful, fast-moving plot -this is period drama at its best.

Rufus Sewell stars as the charming, generous and devious Charles II in this new four-part series. He was an attractive, virile man who kept several mistresses and fathered 13 illegitimate children.

Shirley Henderson plays his wife, Catharine of Braganza, while Helen McCrory and Emma Pierson areamong his mistresses. The stellar cast also includes Diana Rigg, Rupert Graves, Martin Freeman andIan McDiarmid. The TV team recreated 17th-century London in the Czech Republic, and the story takes us through Charles reclaiming the throne after Cromwell's death, the Great Plague of 1665, the Fire of London in 1666, his dissolution of Parliament and his rule as an absolute monarch.

Copyright 2003 Sunday Mercury Financial Times Information Limited

The Express:
ROBERT GORELANGTON CASTS A CRITICAL EYE OVER THE WEEKEND'S TELEVISION
November 17, 2003

CHARLES II - THE POWER AND THE PASSION (Sunday, BBC1) was keener on passion than power. More sexed-up than an Iraqi dossier, this night of spaniel wigs and bulging bodices was a four-million-quid bonkfest.

Heart-throb Rufus Sewell played the merry monarch with Helen McCrory as his Mistress of the Bedchamber (ie slapper in residence), Barbara Villiers. Talk about oral history! Sid James himself would have thought it over the top. As a national drama in the wake of Cromwell's death unfolded, the action stopped for endless four-poster romps Restoration-style.

The king's mistress doled out come-hither looks to everything with a pulse. I'm all for attractive actresses taking their clothes off a lot.

I don't even mind Sewell's hairy chest. But just when the political intrigue got going, everything stopped for yet another pay-to-view bedroom scene. The sex was a bit like a bad musical.
You ended up thinking oh no, not another damn song.

The no-expense-spared cast had Rupert Graves as Buckingham and that funny bloke from The Office, Martin Freeman, as Lord Shaftesbury.

Diana Rigg did her usual lemon-faced old trout routine as Charles's ultra-Catholic mum, Henrietta Maria. And we haven't yet met Nell Gwynne waiting in the wings to shove her plump oranges under the king's nose. In the publicity bumf the Beeb hinted at parallels with the modern Royal Family. True, Prince Charles had a mistress and has a legion of staff. But there's one big difference: Charles II never gave a damn about what the butler saw.


Charles II Review:  The Scotsman Evening News
November 17 2003, 7:49 AM 

From sinewy saint to bloody monarch,Charles II – the Power and the Passion proved just as compelling. Its opening nightmare scene, portraying the execution of Charles I as viewed by his son – the milky white neck, the floating hair entangled with snow flakes, and then the butchery – seemed suggestive of a drama inclined towards horror, but soon the pulse rate returned to normal and what emerged was a beautifully filmed, understated, and often subtle slice of well-written costume drama in which the costumes knew their place. Which was on the floor, or bundled around ankles. For milky flesh was not confined to those opening shots. Charles’s aerobics in the bedroom were framed by the camera for maximum impact.

Rufus Sewell was perfectly cast
as the wily king in thrall to, and under the spell of, his tempestuous mistress Lady Castlemaine, while the best supporting actress award belonged to Shirley Henderson, as Queen Catherine, wearing a hairdo the size of Mars.
http://www.news.scotsman.com/features.cfm?id=1268872003

Last night's TV: A right pair of Charlies
November 17, 2003
Alun Palmer
http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/allnews/page.cfm?objectid=13631392&method=full&siteid=50143

THE similarities were quite striking in Charles II - The Power and the Passion. Charles II and the future King Charles III. Here was a King who had a gorgeous - albeit barely out-of- puberty - wife and yet was in thrall to an older and less attractive mistress.
But what a mistress Lady Castlemaine was. When she meets the exiled King in Antwerp, she gets on her knees and all but sucks the ring from his finger.
Naturally, this makes Antwerp a far more interesting place for our spaniel-haired hero.
Yet she made him wait like a puppy before he could finally have his regal way. "I think it pathetic, a king with no throne and no money." But Charles took the abuse and came back for more. Now he had a real incentive to oust Cromwell and regain his throne. And just to keep her hand in, Lady Castlemaine also bedded his best mate - who just happened to be her cousin.
And she was definitely a woman who liked to keep it in the family as she then led the King's 14-year-old son into her bedchamber.
By a neat bit of footwork Charles got his throne back and then, as an added bonus, a teenage bride with a hairstyle that can only be described as odd even by 17th century standards. "My God," cried Charles after espying his bride-to-be: "They have brought me a bat to marry."
Indeed, one strong gust of wind and his little Princess would have been roosting in the rafters.
His mistress however, thought the new queen was no competition. "Virginity has some attraction for the jaded palate. But experience never palls," she huffed.
This was stirring stuff - even forgetting, for a moment, the sight of Helen McCrory's heaving bosom as Lady Castlemaine.
Rufus Sewell was, by turns, vain and spineless and then chillingly ruthless as Charles.
IIt almost put the recent royal shenanigans into the shade ... but not quite.


From Ceefax
(BBC equivalent of teletext),

Following in the footsteps of ITV's Henry VIII, comes the BBC's latest royal romp through history. An what a romp this first episode was, with mistress after mistress being flung onto the bed of the Stuart king.

Rufus Sewell gave his Charles II a very modern twist (in the same way as Ray Winstone did in Henry VIII), making it very accessible to a wide audience.

As shame they tweaked with the truth - for example, the scenes showing Charles being splattered by the blood of his father's beheading were pure fiction

 

The Independent: Staying in: Get ready for a bit of ruff
Gerard Gilbert 
November 15, 2003

In a week that has seen Prince Charles's chances of becoming King Charles III lengthen somewhat, BBC1 begins a drama about the last English monarch to bear his forename. Charles II: The Power and the Passion, the corporation's big new costume drama of the autumn season, launches, however, into highly competetive scheduling waters. There's a new series of the popular Foyle's War on ITV, while - oddly, given that it is the Beeb scheduling against itself - BBC2 screens Louis Theroux's film about Michael Jackson, Louis, Martin and Michael. So many repeats knocking about, and the BBC can't arrange one to maximise viewers for its prestige costume drama?

It's a pity, because writer Adrian Hodges, known for racy but otherwise unremarkable adaptions of Lorna Doone and David Copperfield, has crafted an intelligent and nuanced life of "the merry monarch" - certainly a far more creditable affair than the recent ITV drama about Henry VIII.

Rufus Sewell takes the title role, which will please at least one half of the viewing public, especially as he spends a considerable amount of time out of his breeches. Indeed, the subtitle in Charles II: the Power and the Passion accurately reflects its ongoing and - often entangled - concerns. There is a scene, for example, where (the still) Prince Charles and his bosom buddy the Duke of Buckingham (played by Rupert Graves) discuss high policy, while romping with a pair of prostitutes. And Graves gives surely one of the most casual cunnilingus scenes ever screened on BBC1.

Don't be misled, however; while the Restoration is an epoch often given to ripe, over-lavish interpretation, Charles II is no conventional boddice- ripper. Director Joe Wright uses (sparingly) the newly fashionable verite techniques forged by Peter Watkins in his astonishing Sixties historical film Culloden, about the Battle of Culloden. Wright also gives it a wintry, washed-out feel - the red petals being flung by the crowd at Charles II's coronation an artistically apt introduction of colour. And, while there are an awful lot of Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen lookalikes wandering about, the verisimilitude of the production breaks rank with the current vogue of TV costume drama in playing fast and loose with historical accuracy. The concentration on courtly intrigue, and the politics of the boudoir, harks back to an earlier and greater era of BBC costume dramas, such as I Claudius and Elizabeth R.

Indeed, there is a wealth of strong female roles here, from Diana Rigg as Charles's grimly reactionary mother, Henrietta Maria, to Helen McCrory - typecast but nevertheless effective as the mad, bad and dangerous-to- know Barbara Villiers. In the opening episode, there is also a touchingly understated performance from Shirley Henderson, as Charles's Portuguese wife, Catherine of Braganza. Her fabulous wig deserving a BAFTA in itself. `Charles: The Power and the Passion' begins on Sun at 9pm on BBC1

The Independent  
November 17, 2003
Thomas Sutcliffe

A Frolic with the King of  Tarts
 
Giggling doxies with plump bubs? Check. Taffeta gowns which ride up to reveal ribboned stocking tops? Check. Men with wigs like spaniel's ears? Check. As a good old-fashioned Restoration romp Charles II - The Power and the Passion comes fully equipped. It has most of the desirable contemporary accessories too - including a portentously melancholy score, hand-held camerawork, icily lit scenes of judicial torture and even a minor kerfuffle about historical accuracy in the Radio Times.
 
You can get some sense of its historical seriousness, incidentally, from the Hollywood hucksterism of that title - which is five words too long but does at least reassure the nervous. "Contains scenes of sex and violence" reads the billing - and the line isn't a warning but a promise. Those who insist on the accuracy of content labelling will be glad to know that the first episode includes one autopsy-quality execution and a peek-a-boo cunnilingus scene in which the identity of the man who finally comes up for air from between Helen McCrory's creamy thighs is not Charles II, as you expect, but his friend George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham.
 
Those who insist on the accuracy of historical drama will be a little more tetchy - because Adrian Hodges' script is cheerfully indifferent to the demands of scholarship. "With that kind of money she could look like Cromwell's arse and still be Queen", says Buckingham, as the King's advisers discuss the advantages of a match with Catherine of Braganza. When the Queen eventually pitches up, wearing a hairpiece the size of a small car, the King mutters "My God! They've brought me a bat to marry!"
 
I may be wrong, but I don't think it would be worthwhile searching through the historical records for the source of these vigorous remarks
 
Really dedicated nit-pickers will find the thing crawling with re-invention and convenient elisions - but they will have lost sight of the fact that the nits are rather the point of the thing. which doesn't mean that the drama doesn't have its disappointments. The problem is that this is a wonderfully rich period of English history, alive with calculation and plots, neurotic with religious anxiety and larging it big-time - as the Stuarts like to say - after years under the Protestant mullahs.
 
Any fictional version of it - altered to accommodate our contemporary notions of what counts as dramatic - is open to the danger that it will end up more pallid and banal than the original. And when Rufus Sewell has a game of cliché tennis with his fanatical mother that's exactly what happens. "There's been enough killing!" he yells, serving deep into the box. Diana Rigg hits a fierce backhand return with "Weak! You've always been weak!" but Sewell eventually takes the point with "Discretion be damned!"
 
Such scenes are unauthentic by any measure - that of historical scholarship or television drama - and they can't help but detract from the pleasures of the romping elsewhere. The Restoration court didn't worry too much about the age of consent. Barbara Villiers lubriciously eyes up Charles' son, the Duke of Monmouth - and once she's established that he's 14, it's game on.
 

Guardian TV preview 
November 15, 2003

The Guardian: FILM CHOICE
Charles II: The Power And The Passion

9pm, BBC1

Less mad, bad and dangerous to know; more traumatised, amoral and inconsistent - Charles II, the Merry Monarch, was a mass of contradictions according to this handsome cossie drama. We meet Charlie (Rufus Sewell, who seems finally to have made the leap from pretty boy contender to genuine leading man) in bitter exile and follow as he's restored to the throne following Cromwell's death. The sense of an England loosening up after the puritan dominance is vividly conveyed, in great part because of high-quality thesping from the likes of Rupert Graves, Helen McCrory and Diana Rigg. JW



Charlie is my darling -
Nancy Banks-Smith
Monday November 17, 2003
The Guardian


Here is a big box of chocs for anyone who likes boxed chocolates. Charles II - The Power and the Passion (BBC1, Sunday) often looks luscious, partly because it was filmed in an old Daewoo factory outside Prague, which cried out for a bit of creative paintwork. However, as I admired the set, I was reminded of Harry Cohn's remark to a set designer. If, while Clark Gable and Myrna Loy were making out, anyone was looking at the mantepiece then he, Harry, would be (you have to clean up Cohn as you go along) in a bit of bother.
This decorative box contains an attractively unwrapped selection of mistresses though, unexpectedly, last night's little wow was Charles's wife, Catharine of Braganza (Shirley Henderson), with her straight-shooting eyes under a wig that looked as if an alien had landed. Catharine, apparently, brought us tea and Tangiers. So what happened to Tangiers?

Incidentally, the etiquette adviser on the payroll should have insisted that Charles stood up to greet his bride. He was always gentlemanly, if not exactly a gentleman.

To haul Charles into the 21st century by his hair, he is shown as haunted by his father's execution, a prey to blood-splattered nightmares. I think it fairly fair to say that no king in our history has stood in less need of the Samaritans than Charles II. He seems to have been humorous, affable and easy of manner. He was in turn a man on the run, an exile and a king, and he handled all three very shrewdly. He was not ("Odds fish, what an ugly fellow I am!") as pretty as Rufus Sewell but, probably, far less likely to look wide-eyed and wounded.


BBC News
Newsnight

November 14
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/review/3271729.stm

Charles II

The House of Windsor's family drama is nothing compared to the Royal household in 1660 when Charles II returned to England, the monarchy restored after the rout of Cromwell's son.

The new BBC four part drama The Power and the Passion portrays the King as a charismatic but essentially weak character, more out his cullottes than in, presiding over a court and parliament where sex conquers all.

The action begins however in 1649 at the execution of Charles I - witnessed at least in a dream by his blood splattered son - who is exiled in Holland. There he becomes besotted with the woman who was to bear him several illigitimate children, Barbara Villiers.
(This review will be online the week of November 16 -follow this link :             http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/review/default.stm)

On the panel will be:
Bonnie Greer
Will Self

 

Charles's palace secrets

Mark Lawson
Monday November 10, 2003
The Guardian


Reporting the affairs of the modern Royals is an exhausting business involving high-court injunctions and interviews about mysterious rumours, so you can understand why television is so drawn at the moment to dead kings. Just after ITV1 has finished with Henry VIII, BBC1 turns to Charles II.

The connection between these English monarchs is that the histories of both provide ample opportunity to dramatise mistresses and guillotines, and television drama has never shied from sex and violence. While Henry VIII began with the women and gradually introduced the executions, Charles II reverses the emphasis.

The first thing we see is a dead king walking: Charles I being led, with his long moustache and beard, towards the glistening blade which will do more than shave him. This wordless scene feels like a pop-video version of Andrew Marvell's poem about the execution, and ends with the blood which spurts from the old king's neck splashing down on the face of the son who shares his name.

The production then jumps to Antwerp in 1658, when Charles Stuart - played by Rufus Sewell as a floppy-haired Byronic type - receives news that Cromwell's republic is crumbling and he must consider a return to England. This is economic storytelling: setting up the narrative as son avenging father, the storyline which unites Shakespeare and Hollywood; although, by omitting Charles's failed attempt to conquer Scotland in the intervening years, it makes him seem a more simply heroic figure than he was.

But whatever name a king was given in baptism - Henry, Charles - there's another one which television drama rapidly confers on him: Roger. The pretender celebrates the possible restoration with a vast amount of sex. His Dutch mistress Barbara - played by Helen McCrory as a crotch-seeking missile with bags under her eyes, presumably from lack of sleep - kneels to kiss the king's hand in greeting and pecks at his codpiece instead. Back in England, she sleeps with the king and his son within minutes of each other - shortly after getting cunnilingus from a cousin - in retaliation for his political marriage to the pert Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza. In a series offering a modern view, this interpretation of female sexuality feels dangerously old-fashioned.

Shakespeare made England's kings speak poetry, but television writers now put soap in their mouths. Adrian Hodges' script for this - like Peter Morgan's for Henry VIII - has people in costume speaking lines which might have come from EastEnders. "I mean, I'm going back to England."

As well as modern language, it's clear that contemporary parallels are also intended. In the marital sequences, we're surely supposed to think of a more recent Royal called Charles who married a shy girl despite his involvement with a married mistress. Other nods at the Windsors include the suggestion from a courtier that Charles's restored regime should feature a "more limited role for the monarchy. The time has come to compromise."

Observing Richard Cromwell's loss of control, someone says: "This is what happens when people lose respect for their leaders." But - as in those stage versions of Shakespeare set in hip-hop studios - parallels intended to bring an old story closer actually push it further away. In 2003, a loss of faith in politicians does not make the public see the point of its monarchy: both institutions suffer equal contempt.

Other editorial decisions are much more subtle. Catherine of Braganza speaks swathes of untranslated Spanish, which is brave at peak-time, but correct because the point of view in the scene is Charles's and he has no idea what she's saying. This touch is a measure of the general sophistication in a drama which efficiently lays down in this episode the ground for the next three - the spat with the Catholics, the tension with the brother - and steers a skilful route between the history core curriculum and soft-core porn.

Thanks, Nadine

 

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