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The name most people think of as best associated with the term PRIME MINISTER OF ENGLAND is Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill. After all, he was the Prime Minister who was (with FDR and Stalin) the Big Three who won World War II, and he was also a man who was in the public eye as a political figure of the first rank from 1905 to 1955. Churchill was a great lover of tradition, and he would write several books of biography and history which eventually won him the Nobel Prize for Literature. His reputation as a historian is for his Memoirs of the First and Second World Wars and his biography of his ancestors John and Sarah Churchill, First Duke and Duchess of Marleborough. It is this biography, MARLEBOROUGH: HIS LIFE AND TIMES, that is the basis for this series.
The positive virtues are that it is well acted and produced, and well written. John Neville gave a sterling performance as the military genius who stopped Louis XIV's armies, and Susan Hampshire and Margaret Tyzack (reunited from THE FORTSYTE SAGA) were first rate as Sarah, the wife of Marleborough, who became the closest friend and adviser to Princess (later Queen) Anne of England, and as that monarch. The story describes how the three reach the apogee of power together, until Marleborough's enemies bring him down, even replacing Sarah with her cousin Abigail Masham (Jill Balcom) as the Queen's closest confidant. Assisting them in their rise was Marleborough's closest friend Sidney Godolphin (John Standing), who would be the Chancellor of Exchequer.
The story would also detail the history of British politics from 1678 to 1714, through the reigns of Charles II (James Villiers), James II (James Westbrook), William III and Mary II (Alan Rowe and Lisa Danieli), and Anne (Tyzack). This would include events that the Churchills, Godolphin, Anne, and others had to evade, like the Popish Plot, the revolt of the Duke of Monmouth (James Kerry), the 1696 Assassination scheme of Sir John Fenwick (which implicated Marleborough), and the wars of Europe caused by Louis XIV that led to the War of the Spanish Succession (1702 - 1714) which left England (barely) the most powerful state in Europe. Marleborough's strategic and diplomatic brilliance gave England the margin to beat France - but Louis was able to take advantage of serious political schisms in Britain between Marleborough and his followers, Robert Harley (Richard Pearson), Harley's ally and later rival Henry St. John (Michael Attwell), and the Duke of Shrewsberry to pull some of France's chestnuts out of the fire.
This was a weighty piece of history, and the performances were quite delightful (James Villiers gave Charles II just the right lightness of touch to make one realize how formidable a political opponent he really was). But the problem is that John and Sarah are shown to be always right and always looking out for Britain's best interests. In fact, the Tories were quite critical of John Churchill as an opportunist who knew when to switch sides in time (like his predecessor, General George Monk in 1660, or the future French statesman, Charles Talleyrand). He was also exceptionally gifted at feathering his nest (Sarah got him a lot of money through her contacts with Anne, and he was willing to take "gifts" from various European allies). Sir Winston evades this - feeling it is so much "propaganda" by Marleborough's enemies. If so, the propaganda has not been totally dismissed by historians since the 1930s (when the biography was written). Nor was it dismissed by Whig historians prior to Churchill writing his biography. Thomas Macauley's A HISTORY OF ENGLAND is quite open about John Churchill's greed - but he died before he really discussed Churcill's military victories at Ramilies, Blenheim. Maplaquet, Oudenarde, etc.
By all means, if you see the series enjoy it. But do some personal reading on your own to see the other side of the coin regarding John and Sarah.
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