Government Health Warning: the following paragraph contains a cheap gag. This week I thought I might write about a heavily flagged import from the United States called Taken, but found I couldn't generate sufficient interest in a mini-series about a bar stool. (Ho ho.)
Much more worthwhile last weekend was the first part of The Lost Prince, which was even more heavily trailed. part of the BBC propaganda offensive designed to show us that our license fee is actually worth paying. Stephen Poliakoff is no slouch, and this epic, written and directed by him. has much to recommend it.
I give it full marks in two departments. Every line of dialogue had a reason to be there, was economical and well thought-out: and Poliakoff knows how to direct. Not only were the four juveniles who played the epileptic. bright autistic Prince John and his elder brother, the future George VI, in different times, utterly convincing, he also managed to show us that Gina McKee is an actress, which is something we certainly had not known on the basis of Our Friends in the North (which, ironically, made her name) or The Forsvte Saga.
Michael Gambon was magnificent as Edward VII, but there was too little of him, and the whole thing suffered unfairly from the use of an actor who outclassed the rest of a pretty good cast, especially Miranda Richardson, of whom it has been observed already by many critics that such a versatile actress with such a mobile face is under-used as the superficially cold, implacable Queen Mary.
But, on the whole, good stuff. My qualms? Well, you don't see anything on the box these days about Old Imperial England without some kind of political subtext telling you how absolutely frightful it was, and we were given a heavy signal early on (remember this is a BBC-WBGH co-production, the latter being a Boston public service outfit) from all those dressed-up blue-blooded ladies smoking cigarettes, and the sight of the royal dog preceding its family down the red carpet specially laid out on the bead was, though true, ridiculous.
More sensible were the points made about the tendency of Victorian and thus Edwardian society to ignore the inconvenient, be it political protesters or a problem child, and to insist on protocol to the detriment of solution.
Btit if there was a programme behind this show to make me grateful that I now five in i pseudo-egalitarian, pseudo-democratic state in which deference and courtesy and what used to tit called dignity but is now called repression are but distant memories, it failed. Actually it made ne ache with atavism. and wish that the First World War and its consequence, the Second, had neve happened. not as I always have, for the lives lost, bu for the society that fell with them. And before anyons writes in to remind me of the terrible social conch Lions that obtained at that time: I know/ that, bu political evolution was taking care of it anyway, and we could have solved that problem without the blood and the loss of national soul.
I am not, however, branding Poliakoff with the mark of the sledge-hammer, point-scoring leftie, for that would be completely unfair. And though then were some strokes in this film that I found a little cheesy. like the macaw given freedom by the King a fly around Buck House while the handicapped prince was banged up in a house on the Sandringham estate I did like one bit of historical resonance; a young bo;. the future, reluctant, George VI, who stayed in th Palace during the Blitz, reciting the Agincourt speech to his parents. Cheap, anachronistic, but absolutes 1: right.