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British empire monarch George V and his wife Queen Mary decide to hide their last-born son, Johnnie, from the public, being embarrassingly affected by epilepsy. While his protective elder brother is ruthlessly groomed for court life, Johnnie gets packed off to a country cottage on the royal estate Sandringham. With his full-time governess Lalla, a substitute-mother, he's abandoned to playfulness and virtual social neglect. The Great War and the Russian Revolution change life in Britain, also at court, even at Sandringham, where royal refugees are expected. Written by
Stephen Poliakoff wrote and directed this which was shown over two weekends recently here in the UK. It was certainly a sumptuous production, I've rarely seen a costume drama more lavishly dressed.
It is broadly about the period 1908 to about 1920 seen through the eyes of the little known Prince John, youngest son of King George V and Queen Mary. Possibly autistic or with milder learning difficulties and known to be epileptic, this play shows his child's eye views of his grandfather the King (Edward VII) and the visit of the Tzar to the UK, following on to his own father's succession, through the Irish crisis and on to the the First World War. His father becomes King and he is packed off to the country, as his shortcomings emerge, with his faithful nurse Lala with only occasional visits from the aloof Queen Mary his mother, who just cannot understand him or his needs. His brother George, very bright and determined, is used as a foil to explain a lot of action as is the King's Secretary, Lord Stamfordham.
Miranda Richardson is superb as Queen Mary, catching her regality and vunerability in one, though Tom Hollander did less well as the King, he was a little young, the King being in his late forties/early fifties during this time, and Michael Gambon, a Poliakoff favourite (and the new Dumbledore apparently) does little more than a cameo as Edward VII. Gina McKee excels as Lala, determined to make Johnnie's parents just even notice him.
The King and Queen are here portrayed much younger than the geriatrics they are usually seen as in Abdication dramas. Great stuff!
And what became of them all, well you'll have to watch but Prince George became the Duke of Kent and was killed in an RAF aircrash in 1942, George V died in 1936 and Queen Mary died in 1953, the year Johnnie's niece, Elizabeth was crowned.
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