Prince Regent – Simply Media DVD Review

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Prince Regent was an eight-part serial broadcast between September and October 1979.  Peter Egan played George, Prince of Wales, a man destined to ascend the throne of England.  But the madness of his father, George III (Nigel Davenport), and the strained relationship enjoyed with his wife Caroline (Diana Stabb) ensure that his succession is far from straightforward.

Unusually, multiple writers worked on the serial.  Robert Muller penned five episodes with the remainder provided by Reg Gadney, Nemone Lethbridge and Ian Curteis.  Carl Davis scored the music whilst Michael Simpson and Michael Hayes shared directing duties.

As might be expected, Peter Egan is supported by a highly impressive cast.  Nigel Davenport, Francis White, Keith Barron, Clive Merrison, Susannah York, Diana Stabb, David Horovitch, Barbara Shelley, Caroline Blakiston, Murray Head, David Collings, Cheri Lunghi and Patsy Kensit all appear in multiple episodes whilst the likes of Geoffrey Chater, Jane Freeman, Jo Kendall and Trevor Martin make one-off appearances.

Below is a brief episode by episode review.

Episode One – Mad For Love – 4th September 1979

In his own estimate talented, passionate, sensitive, a lover of art, of sport, of freedom, of women. In his father’s opinion scandalous and irresponsible, a drunkard, a ne’er-do-well, a lecher. 1782, and George Augustus Frederick, Prince of Wales, heir to the throne of England, approaches his coming-of-age (Radio Times Listing)

Mad for Love opens with a montage of the Prince of Wales enjoying various pursuts (fencing, shooting, carriage racing) which quickly establishes his less than serious nature. That he’s easily distracted by a pretty face is also in evidence after Maria Fitzherbert (Susannah York) catches his eye. The Prince finds (much to his amazement) that he’s violently in love with her, something which Maria – after listing George’s numerous previous conquests – finds impossible to believe.

The testy relationship enjoyed between the King and the Prince of Wales is explored for the first time. The King (wonderfully portrayed by Nigel Davenport) has a low opinion of his son, but it’s puzzling that he denies the Prince the opportunity to serve in the army. By doing so he condems his son to sort of aimless life he claims to despise.

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Episode Two – Put Not Your Trust in Princes – 11th September 1979

The Prince has married his beloved Maria. The ceremony is illegal and secret, hidden not only from the King but also from Fox. And the rumours and whispers of scandal, soon begin … (Radio Times listing)

Nigel Davenport continues to entertain as George III. Whether he’s at the dining table and lecturing his children about why they can’t afford certain fruit (Egan’s in full eye-rolling mode here) or displaying a lack of interest in the Bard (“oh dear god, not Shakespeare. Detest the fellow, sad stuff”) he’s great fun. But the early signs of the King’s madness casts a shadow, especially as we know what’s to come. It also has to be said that whenever George III goes “what, what, what” (which he does rather often) I can’t help but be reminded of Neddy Seagoon ….

Keith Barron, another quality player, gives a strong performance as Fox, although his heavy 5 o’clock shadow makes him look rather odd. Malcolm Terris, as a yokel politician bitterely opposed to George’s marriage, has a couple of nice scenes.

Episode Three – The Bride from Brunswick – 18th September 1979

The illegal marriage to Maria turning cold, his debts steadily increasing, the Prince begins to think the unthinkable. Why not a second, official, marriage? But who will be the bride this time? (Radio Times listing)

The Prince decides to show his gratitude to his father for settling his substantial debts by agreeing to marry whoever the King chooses. George III plumps for Princess Caroline, who is, to put it mildly, a woman of character.

James Harris, the Earl of Malmsbury (Julian Curry), is given the task of travelling to Brunswick, Germany, to arrange the match. The court at Brunswick is a delight, with Ralph Michael offering a fine comic turn as the Earl of Brunswick. The Earl likes to have endless fanfares whenever he eats, even if it means that the unfortunate players pass out after straining to maintain the notes!

Caroline is a real handful and it’s plain that she’ll shake up the Prince’s life. The meeting between Caroline and George’s most prominent mistress Lady Frances Jersey (Caroline Blakinston) is a treat but this is topped when George and Caroline first set eyes on each other. He recoils at her heavily made-up face whilst she bitterly comments that “he’s terrible fat and by no means as handsome as his portrait”. This is not going to be a marriage made in heaven ….

Episode Four – The Trouble with Women – 25th September 1979

An official wife, an unofficial wife, and a powerful and determined mistress – is it any surprise that the Prince feels besieged by women? (Radio Times listing)

Caroline bears the Prince a daughter, Charlotte, but if he’s to finally extricate himself from his debts then he’ll need to produce many more (each new child would see an increase in his allowance). George doesn’t take kindly to this thought, the fact he refers to Caroline as “that unnatural hell-hag from Brunswick” makes his postion abundantly clear.

David Collings (as Pitt) is yet another fine actor who enriches the production no end. Pitt has been opposed to George’s antics in the past, but now supports the suggestion that the Prince and Caroline should live separate lives. The Princess of Wales’ man-eating tendances (which occur off-screen) are touched upon after George tells his wife that he’s found her a nice house in Blackheath, which will be convenient, since the Royal Naval College and a home for distressed seamen are both nearby!

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Episode Five – Father and Son – 9th October 1979

The King’s health has been good for several years but now there are ominous signs of a relapse into madness – convulsions, delusions, incessant talking. Is it at last time for a Regency? (Radio Times listing)

This one opens with the unusual sight of George indulging in amateur dramatics, performing an intense monologue before a select, but appreciative, audience. Although I’m sure there’s more than a touch of sychophancy in their fulsome appreciation.

George III cuts a tragic figure. He knows that his intermittent madness has returned, but the prospect of the “cure” (beatings, leeches, isolation in a darkened room) is more than he can bear. Davenport once again commands the screen.

George’s wish that his father either dies or goes properly mad is chilling.

Episode Six – God Save the King – 16th October 1979

A delicate investigation has been ordered into the alleged adultery of Princess Caroline. The Prince sees a chance for divorce from his hated wife. (Radio Times listing)

Peter Egan’s appearance at the start of this episode comes as a bit of a shock. He was slighly made up in the previous episode in order to portray an ageing and portlier George, but here it’s even more pronounced. Oddly, George III looks no different …

The investigation isn’t able to prove that Caroline has commited adultery, a verdict which rather upsets George. But even with his rather unforgiving make-up, Egan impresses as an older, wiser George. His conversation with the dying Fox is a touching one.

With George III’s madness even more of a problem, his son is finally confirmed as Regent. But now this long-cherished day has arrived, what will be the outcome?

Episode Seven – Milk and Honey – 23rd October 1979

The Regent decides that it is time for his beautiful and high-spirited daughter, Princess Charlotte, to marry. He has a candidate – but the strong-willed Princess has her own opinions on the subject. (Radio Times listing)

Princess Charlotte (Cheri Lungi) brings her new man, Captain Charles Hesse (Paul Herzberg) to meet her mother. Princess Caroline is much taken with him (they end up in bed a short while later!)

Lungi’s appearance might be fairly brief, but she’s yet another strong addition to the cast. Charlotte tells her father that she takes after him (a double-edged compliment that’s for sure). The Queen is concerned about her – Charlotte has a stutter and delights in showing people her underwear, whether they ask to see it or not. Jane Freeman, as Charlotte’s governess Lady de Clifford, has a brief but amusing cameo.

James Garbutt, as Lord Elson, has some acid lines which demonstrate that he’s not Princess Caroline’s greatest admirer. “She’s a foul-mouth, a slut and I don’t care who hears me say it.” As he says himself, there’s plenty more where that came from ….

The episode ends with the bleakest of news. It’s another blow for George, who has cast an increasingly melancholy figure as the years have progressed (a far cry from his carefree younger self).

Episode Eight – Defeat and Victory – 30th October 1979

The Prince prepares for the greatest battle of his life. His adversary is his hated wife Caroline, and he is determined to rid himself of her once and for all. (Radio Times listing)

Defeat and Victory opens with the deaths of the King and Queen.  Both Nigel Davenport and Francis White have been exemplary throughout the serial and this continues right up until their final moments.  With George now due to become King he is gripped by a single obsession – to ensure that Caroline is not crowned Queen and to that end she’s put on trial by the House of Lords.  Leading the prosecution is Sir Robert Gifford (James Cossins).  Cossins, the latest in a long line of wonderful character actors to grace the serial, seems to be enjoying himself enormously.

The episode title is an apt one, as although the Lords find Caroline not guilty, George is still able to ensure that his wife never becomes Queen.

Peter Egan, skilled at playing charming rogues, was perfect as George.  But whilst he was easily able to exude George’s affable nature, Egan didn’t shy away from showing us the other side of the coin – the irresponsible man who sometimes rode roughshod over others. Capricious, charming, selfish, generous, George was all these things and more. It’s his ever-changing moods, as well the increasing melancholy which desended on him in his later years, which makes him such a fascinating character.

A co-production with Time Life Television and Polytel International , it’s plain that the budget was pretty generous since the studio sets are detailed and impressive.  The serial also benefits from location recording at the Brighton Pavilion, this really helps to add an extra gloss to proceedings.  A typically impressive BBC costume drama of the era, Prince Regent is a sharply scripted and well-acted serial that just oozes class.  It may be something of a forgotten treasure, but it’s a treasure nonetheless and comes highly recommended.  Prince Regent is released by Simply Media on the 17th of October 2016.  RRP £24.99.

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The Ambassador – Simply Media DVD Review

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Harriet Smith (Pauline Collins) is the newly appointed British ambassador to Northern Ireland.  Recently widowed, she has to juggle the demands of her family (Harriet has two teenage sons who don’t understand why her job has to take precedence over them) as well as numerous day-to-day diplomatic challenges.

Thrust into a world where truth is often a flexible commodity, Harriet is fortunate to have the staunch support of commercial attaché John Stone (Denis Lawson).  But Stone also serves another master (MI6) which means that he occasionally pursues his own agenda, something which becomes more pronounced in the second series ….

It’s hard to argue that The Ambassador is a terribly realistic series, but it’s entertaining nonetheless.  Harriet seems just a little bit too good to be true – whilst everybody else stumbles around, she’s sometimes able to sort out seemingly insoluble problems in a matter of minutes.  But if the plotting can feel a little contrived at times, there’s also a pleasing sense that the world she now lives in is painted in shades of grey.  So even when she turns out to be right we can’t always expect a “happy” ending.

In the first series she clashes with Steven Tyler (William Chubb) and Kevin Flaherty (Owen Roe). It may not be entirely surprising that although both Tyler and Flaherty start off as implacable rivals they later become staunch allies. More interesting is the relationship she shares with John Stone.  Stone, with his MI6 connections, is invaluable whenever Harriet needs to dip into murky waters, but he seems to undergo something of a change between series.  In series one he tends to act in Harriet’s best interests but that’s not the case during the second series.  This does add a little spice to the stories though, and Lawson is an actor who’s always worth watching.

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Since she’s at the centre of most of the action, Pauline Collins is the glue that holds the series together, although it’s possible to argue that she has a little more to work with in the second series.  This is partly because Peter Egan is introduced as Michael Cochrane, who becomes Harriet’s love interest.  Her relationship with Michael helps to humanize her a little, as well as generating a rather unsurprising plot-twist when it turns out that he has a dramatic impact on her professional life ….

Out of the twelve episodes, the following were of particular interest.  A Cluster of Betrayals sees a hostage crisis take place at the embassy, as a distraught father (whose son died from radiation poisoning) brandishes a canister of nuclear waste in an attempt to draw attention to the pollution he claims has been created by leakages from British power plants.  Things aren’t going well until Harriet steps in to handle negotiations.  This is one of those episodes where it seems just a little too pat that Harriet is able to diffuse the situation when everybody else has failed.

Cost Price sees Harriet’s personal and professional lives collide as Michael is kidnapped.  Unable to negotiate directly for his release, she’s forced to watch proceedings from the sidelines.  Although both series were an excellent vehicle for Pauline Collins, the personal angle for Harriet in this episode helped to ramp up the tension a little more.

The final episode of series two, Getting Away From Murder, ensured that The Ambassador ended on a high.  After Tyler’s wife is found dead from an overdose, he’s accused by the Garda of murder.  He pleads diplomatic immunity (in order to not to derail some sensitive negotiations) leaving Harriet to wonder whether one of her key allies could really be a cold-blooded murderer.  With the truth not disclosed until just before the end, this is a very effective mystery story.

Thanks to strong central performances from Pauline Collins and Denis Lawson and quality support from the likes of Owen Roe, William Chubb, Peter Egan and Eve Matheson, The Ambassador is certainly a series that’s worth a look.  Guest appearances from the likes of Michael Angelis, Philip Jackson, T.P. McKenna, Frederick Treves, Geoffrey Whitehead, Michael Cochrane, Jack Dee and Tenniel Evans don’t hurt either.  Although Harriet may be rather too perfect, if you can suspend your disbelief then there’s plenty to hold your attention across both series

The Ambassador – Complete Collection is released by Simply Media on the 15th of August 2016.  RRP £34.99.

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Zodiac – The Horns of the Moon

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Written by Peter Yeldham
Directed by Joe McGrath

General Weston (Peter Jones) is the autocratic chairman of a small merchant bank.  He wishes to initiate a merger (which effectively means selling the bank).  His fellow directors and his son Tony (Peter Egan) are against the plan, but the General always gets his way – and he does so again.

But shortly afterwards, he falls down the bank’s lift shaft.  As Tony later remarks, anybody else would have broken their neck, but he escaped with just a sprained arm.  However, it does seem to indicate that somebody at the bank wishes him harm.

There’s no shortage of suspects.  His son would inherit everything on his death, whilst the vampish Julie Prentiss (Michele Dotrice) seems to have the General wrapped around her little finger.  The other directors, Rodney Tyce (Graham Crowden), Ian Rentoul (Ronald MacLeod) and Agnes Courtney (Gillian Raine), could all have motives whilst the servant Dobbs (Norman Chappell) is another possibility.

Tony is a regular client of Esther’s and he calls on her to ask for advice.  He wants to leave the bank and break free from his father – but only if she confirms that the stars are correctly aligned.  She visits him at the bank to deliver the horoscope and he suggests they have a drink.  It comes as something of a surprise to find the General frozen solid in the fridge …..

The Horns of the Moon is by far the best mystery of the series since, as the above list indicates, there’s no shortage of suspects.  Once again, Esther is at the scene of the crime when the body is discovered, much to Gradley’s despair.  He’s also a little peeved at having to leave his dinner companion.  “You may not know it but I was at a charity dinner, escorting a debutante of the year.”  When Esther asks which year, he tells her it was quite a recent vintage.

Gradley quickly gets a feel for the list of suspects and it’s clear that Tony is his favourite.  Esther violently disagrees as she says it’s astrologically impossible for him to have committed the murder.  Gradley doesn’t arrest Tony straight away as he knows he’ll make his way to Esther’s flat in order to unburden himself.  This he does and what Tony says is pretty damming.  “What would you say if the files showed that I embezzled two hundred thousand pounds from the firm and the gun that killed the General was in my desk and that I wiped it clear of fingerprints and put it back in the boardroom and I took the files and put them in the cellar?”

Tony protests his innocence – he looks guilty, but that’s only because somebody has framed him.  Later on, even more evidence pointing to his guilt comes to light and Gradley arrests him.  Esther remains unconvinced and continues to nag at him to consider the other possibilities.

As with all the episodes, there’s a lovely group of actors here.  It’s a shame that Peter Jones doesn’t last longer as he’s got some nice comic business as the General.  Peter Egan is a bundle of nerves as the perpetually twitchy Tony whilst Graham Crowden is quite restrained as Tyce.  Tyce is a character that exists on the outskirts of the majority of the story, but he does have a part to play later on.

The banter between Gradley and Esther also helps to keep the interest chugging along.  Both of them, especially Anton Rodgers, have great comic timing and it’s their partnership which is one of the main strengths of the show.

The Horns of the Moon was the final story of this short series.  The real murderer is eventually found and Tony is set free, but that’s the end of the line for Gradley and Esther.  The premise of the series (detective and astrologer teamed up) was an intriguing one, although it’s fair to say that some of the plotting was a little loose in several of the episodes .

The partnership between Hempel and Rodgers as well as the guest casts more than made up for this though and there was certainly enough potential for a further run of episodes.  It wasn’t to be though, which is a shame since Zodiac is a nice little series and provided you don’t mind studio-bound drama (not a single location shot in the six episodes) it’s well worth tracking down.