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An Outstanding Historical Biography!
on March 2, 2004
Edward the King is a superb seventies' dramatisation of the life of Queen Victoria's son Bertie, the Prince of Wales, who went on to become King Edward VII in 1901. The series (which consists of thirteen 50-minute episodes) is actually entitled Edward the Seventh (the title was for some reason changed to Edward the King on the packaging). As for the dvd, there are no extras; and the quality of the picture/sound, although good, is not outstanding, and I don't think the series has been remastered. Unfortunate as this may be, please don't be deterred on that account; the quality is as good as one would expect from any video and it is, after all, the content and the quality of the performance that is most important.
The series covers the life of Bertie from his birth in 1841 through his coronation in 1901 and concludes with his death in 1910. Though extremely privileged, Bertie had a stiflingly sheltered youth dominated by strict, controlling parents, which culminated in an all-but-arranged marriage to the beautiful Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Because of their importance in shaping the character of the young prince, Victoria and Albert (played to absolute perfection by Annette Crosbie (One Foot in the Grave) and Robert Hardy (All Creatures)) are the primary focus of the first few episodes. Victoria did not like to share her power, and her marriage felt the strain of such an inability to delegate (a situation which was not improved by her many temper tantrums!). Ultimately, however, she was persuaded to share her power with her more-than-capable husband--something which, following Albert's death in 1861, she was sadly never to do with her son. Ironically, when he finally succeeded to the throne, Bertie proved himself a very capable and level-headed ruler.
Bertie (played commandingly by Timothy West) longed for responsibility in the government but, thanks to his mother, was destined for the most part to a life of idleness, which he filled libertinely with entertainment, cigars, and of course mistresses--most notably Alice Keppel and Lillie Langtry (portrayed by the beautiful Francesca Annis, who went on to reprise the role in 1979 with Lillie). As the years pass, we see Bertie increasingly in the company of his mistresses. I might just mention (for those with a particular interest in his many affaires du coeur) that his relationships are not the focus here; and certainly, the physical aspects are not delved into (ie. don't expect the gratuitous, explicit sexuality that seems to be a given in current period productions).
The politics of the time are, as one would expect in any profile of a monarch, intertwined with the social and personal life of the individual, and we see over 70 years worth of prime ministers come and go--most notably Benjamin Disraeli (played by John Gielgud) and the perennial thorn in Victoria's side, William Gladstone. We also see the rise to power of the highly unstable Kaiser Wilhelm II of Prussia, the son of Bertie's eldest sister Vicky (played wonderfully by Felicity Kendal (Good Neighbours)). Because of his instability, Wilhelm is an increasingly important figure in Bertie's life.
In conclusion, this is an outstanding production--one which is consummately acted by an all-star British cast, and which I'd recommend very highly to anyone who enjoys quality British period productions or to anyone with an interest in historical biography. If you've enjoyed other classic series--like Lillie, the Pallisers, or Upstairs Downstairs, for example, this one is definitely worth checking out.