This is a mainly forgotten show . It was released in a blaze of publicity by the BBC with the tag that it was the most expensive historical drama ever made by the BBC . In an era of GAME OF THRONES and other shows that have truly cinematic production values watching a 1983 series from the beeb means the acting is somewhat stagey and theatrical with production values that are rather dated , but if you like historical dramas there's a lot to recommend from this show
Series one revolves around the lead up and fighting during the English civil war . King Charles is raising an army from Catholic Ireland and the Protestant parliamentarians are out to stop him . Certainly there's some bias from the narrative where the audiences sympathy are asked to lie with the Lacey family especially the noble Sir Martin Lacey and his son the swashbuckling Tom Lacey . To its credit what the drama does very well is paint the English Civil War not as a conflict between the divine right of kings against democratic parliamentarians but as a religious war between Catholics and evangelical Protestants similar to the type of present day conflict between Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims . In fact for a drama broadcast pre watershed on a Sunday night just after SONGS OF PRAISE there is a very gritty element to the dialogue with constant references to "whores" and "papists" with Hannibal Marsh having a very unhealthy interest in wanting to rid the world of said whores and papists
Series two revolves around the aftermath of the civil war with Cromwell now in power. With Sir Martin Lacey written out of the series I did think I was going to miss Julian Glover's excellent performance as Sir Martin but this is quickly forgotten as Peter Jeffrey's performance as Oliver Cromwell takes centre stage . This is a historically warts and all portrait of Cromwell who isn't trying to replace monarchy with parliamentary democracy but a machevillian dictator who wants to replace tyranny with more tyranny . Actually one point the writers do get wrong is painting the Levellers as good guys and while they did want to introduce a small modicum of democracy to the people it was no more than a small modicum . In reality the democracy we know in this country owes far more to the chartist movement of the early 19th century rather than Cromwell or the Levellers . Another slight irritant to the production is the rather intrusive and manipulative incidental music played over every pivotal or emotional scene
As it stands BY THE SWORD DIVIDED is an impressive drama made when network TV stations made impressive dramas . You have to meet it on its own terms to a degree and the somewhat static camera work and production values might put some people off but if you like history as a subject then you'll like this show
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