from Lost Empires novel re;eased in conjunction with original telecast "In 1913 young Richard Herncastle joins his Uncle Nick's magic act and is introduced to the enchanted world of the ... See full summary »
from Lost Empires novel re;eased in conjunction with original telecast "In 1913 young Richard Herncastle joins his Uncle Nick's magic act and is introduced to the enchanted world of the British music hall. Traveling from one city to the next, assisting at conjuring acts and disappearing acts, Richard comes to know romance, politics and high adventure. The next year, in a true and terrifying vanishing act, the guns of August blast away that world forever." Written by
It is rather odd, but certain writers seem neglected while others are published and again who are just as good as neglected ones. I've commented several times on how Hugh Walpole, who was a leading novelist for the first part of this century is barely recalled now, while James Hilton is remembered for two novels (GOODBYE MR. CHIPS and LOST HORIZON) that just took off with the public, and never lost their popularity. While successful films assist this, that is not a guarantee. J.B.Priestly was the author of plays and novels, and the plays are occasionally revived, but most people don't remember him.
Priestly wrote the play for AN INSPECTOR CALLS (memorably filmed with Alistair Sim in the title role), and the story for LAST HOLIDAY (also a well made film with Alec Guiness). His novel LOST EMPIRES was turned into this seven part series twenty years ago, following the experiences of young Richard Herncastle (Colin Firth) working in the magic act of his uncle Nick Ollanton (John Castle) in the year just before the beginning of World War I. Nick is a rather silent type, very business-like and efficient in producing his magic tricks - but sharped tongued and cynical when pressed. Yet he invites his nephew into this lifestyle, which is certainly more colorful than Richard experiences at home.
What follows mingles Priestly acute sense of history with the growth of Richard's manhood. Richard discovers his values and his first loves in the vaudeville "Empires" around him, and he is dragged into the cross currents of the world as it changes. It is more than just the on-coming tide to World War I, but an episode deals with Nick using the magic act to spirit a fugitive suffragette away from the police, and another act deals with Richard falling for a young woman on the bill as a singer (with a piano accompanist) who are also drug users.
The series had one of the last (if not the last) appearance of Laurence Olivier as a fading comedian who has long lost his audience of his comic abilities. Olivier's act has to do with a teacher who is singing a song that displays his absurd learning, but it is something that might have been popular about 1889 or 1893, not twenty years later. He should have retired years before, but Harry Burrard (Olivier's role) has no where else to go. And his brain is also collapsing into paranoia. As was stated already on this thread, it was a wonderful performance - ironically it was in the first episode only. For that reason most people thinking of this fine series usually think of it only because of Olivier, not because of the other meaty performances and excellent source writing that were involved. Again another blow to Priestly, but one fully deserving (for his sake) to be seen in whole if you can find it.
16 of 16 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?