Written by: John Goldsmith
Directed by: John Erman
Starring: Victoria Hamilton, Jonathan Firth, Nigel Hawthorne, Diana Rigg, David Suchet
- Selected cast biographies/filmographies
Released by: A&E Home Video
Anamorphic: N/A, appears in its original 1.33:1 format.
My Advice: Rent It.
King William IV (Peter Ustinov) is getting older, and the heir to the throne is his niece, Victoria (Hamilton). Trouble is, she’s being kept cooped up in the estate of her mother, the Duchess of Kent (Penelope Wilton). The old bat wants to keep Victoria under her thumb in the hopes that the power of the throne will rub off on her and her co-conspirator, Sir John Conroy (Patrick Malahide). Meanwhile, the Baron von Stockmar (Suchet) is trying to use his power to set up Prince Albert (Firth) as the upcoming Queen’s consort. Family politics, national and international politics, and downright behind-the-back dealings set the stage for a relationship that helped to shape England.
[ad#longpost]At first glance, the first thing that strikes the viewer is the cast. Jonathan Pryce and Sir Nigel are both very welcome on our screens at Needcoffee.com any day. Sir Peter Ustinov is quite amusing as the put-upon King William. While I’m not personally familiar with the work of David Suchet (as I don’t watch a lot of television and he’s perhaps best known for playing Poirot), he makes for an interesting Walsingham. As for the two titular leads, they start off–when they’re playing the characters very young–without a lot to impress with as far as material goes. It’s much later, when they and their relationship together has matured that we get to see them stretch.
The story itself is rather flat for the first half of the show, dealing with the aforementioned bat and family problems that–although they may be interesting from a historical perspective–they’re nothing we haven’t seen before in films that aren’t dealing with royalty. An interesting idea to put forward when watching this was that, yes, royal families can’t get their shite together either…but the film never seems to make use of that. More interesting is when, post-marriage, Albert has to try and figure out just what the hell he has to do with anything, since he’s essentially…well, the First Gentleman, if you will, in the days before spouses could hock health care plans.
A major fault of the film is in the musical score by Alan Parker, which relies too much on bad string synthesizers. They sound like the sample Casio keyboards they used to have on the floor of your local Service Merchandise store. Just flat obnoxious. Also, apart from the aforementioned flatness, are character issues that just don’t make sense. Case in point: the Young Prince Albert keeps underperforming at school and hanging out with actresses (shudder). When confronted, he confesses that he’s doing this just because he wants respect from his parents more than anything else in the world. Um, come again?
For special features, this set is rather lacking. What it does have are filmographies for the main players, but they are split up across the two discs. I’m not sure what purpose the splitting up does, other than make it possible to have a “special features” entry on both discs’ menus. But the good news is that at least said filmographies are rather extensive.
This is a film of some excellent acting moments and some where the cast feels like they’re making the best of mediocre dialogue. But it’s no matter, it’s still worth watching, especially for fans of costume drama and for fans of the actors involved. I wouldn’t go so far as to recommend you own one, however, but it’s worth paying the rental fees for.