19 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
The story of the English Civil War told through the eyes of one family.

The Parliamanetarians (aka Roundheads), led by General Oliver Cromwell, overthrow the Royalists (aka Cavaliers), led by King Charles I. Charles is executed, and England becomes a Puritan state until Cromwell's death. With no strong leadership, the Royalists are able to reassert themselves, leading to Charles's son (King Chalres II) assuming the throne.

The Royalist Lacey family, in their castle at Arnescote, is divided when eldest daughter Anne marries a leading Parliamentarian. Before long, Sir Martin Lacey (Julian Glover) is dead; the family's slow self-destruction mirrors that of the country as a whole.

Glorious scripts and dialogue. Beautiful locations, sets and costumes. Some outstanding performances and some memorable characters among the family and the servants. The great Peter Jeffrey makes Cromwell rather sympathetic, when he eventually appears. King Charles I's trial is taken from the original transcripts, and is utterly powerful and gripping. There are memorable scenes and characters galore: the siege of Arnescote at the end of the first series; the spiteful priest of the second series; John Fletcher's bluff, confident father; duplicitous cousin Susan. Battles, spying, swordfights, seedy London backstreets ... this is the stuff of great British telly.

A special mention is reserved for one of the best character actresses of all time, Eileen Way, who plays the kitchen crone-in-residence, Minty, and for Rosalie Crutchley as the tower of strength housekeeper Goodwife Margaret.

The standout episode, for me, is the witchfinder episode from series two. Utterly harrowing, as poor kitchengirl Rachel finds herself the victim of circumstance and gossip. Debbie Goodman's performance stayed with me for days afterwards, and it's a real shame that IMDb suggests she didn't do anything more. If you read this, Debbie, thanks for a startling piece of TV.

The only disappointment in the whole of By the Sword Divided is that the music composers were obviously working on the BBC's Miss Marple at the same time as this!
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