Monday, 31 January 2011

Charles II -- the power and the passion

Staying on the more cultural side, a very nice movie, actually miniserie, just ended: Charles II: the power and the passion. The author was at first sceptical about it, as his latest experience with historical drama was The Tudors, about Henry VIII and his wives. This latter drama seems to more about pretty actors and actresses saying one-liners at a steady rate and being constantly angry or upset for some silly reason.

No, the author was happily and pleasantly surprised by the historical drama subject of this blog on king Charles II. The movie starts about 1658 in Spanish Flanders were Charles II is having his court in exile. Following his restoration, general Monck is portrayed really convincingly as being instrumental in this, we see a young king enjoying being king. He is of course married to Catherine of Braganza, but most time is spend with his mistresses (Barbara Palmer (born Villiers), Nell Gwyn, Louise de Kérouaille, etc.). Also the several, often ambitious, young men around him are present: Buckingham, York (future James II), Danby, Shaftesbury, Arlington, etc etc.

Besides the more frivolous part of court life, the viewer gets a decent portion of post restoration history. The 2nd Anglo-Dutch War is mentioned, including the Dutch raid on the Medway, the plague and great fire of London. Later the intrigues with Louis XIV enter the screen: the Treaty of Dover. The final part of the series is mostly devoted to Charles' struggle with Parliament, mostly related to who is to succeed him: the Catholic James or poor pretty Monmouth. The latter is depicted very well as the spoiled first-born son of a king, who has everything except a claim to his father's crown. John Churchill (future Marlborough) is also in scene, in bed with Barbara Palmer whose one time lover he was; like many of the other male characters in the drama.

Towards the end Charles is a tired old man, but still a friendly one spending time with his wife, mistresses and numerous children.

William III of Orange enters the scene also twice, but failed to convince somehow. He looked more like a rowdy Frisian farmer's son than the cunning, though brittle and sickly, diplomat and statesman. Few years before Charles dies he warns William to prepare for the throne of England. This because Charles knowns already his brother James will not be king long. At least in the motion picture ...

Recommended! Be sure to get the original 4 hour BBC version. The US release is shorter, and omits some important historical parts. Only drawback is that the number of characters is large, and look similar because of the huge wigs popular in that period. So a little knowledge on who-was-who will help.


mekelnborg said...

Curious about your closing sentence about Charles telling William to get ready, in the movie. Do you think he knew the Novemeber 1688 events would happen, let alone speak favorably of it ahead of time?

Wienand Drenth said...

Well, perhaps it was pure speculation from the side of the producers.
However, Charles II was far from a silly and ignorant man and he very well knew what sort of monarch his brother James would be. At the same time Charles would also know very well what sort of ambitious young man William was. Charles had seen William refusing peace in 1672-73, despite the precarious situation of the Republic, and his growth to leading man of the Republic.
So adding things up, Charles may very well be aware of certain things in the future. If it is true spoke about it, let alone favourable, I cannot tell.