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England, My England (1995)

| Biography, Drama, History
In 1960s, a British playwright attempts to reconstruct the life of real life 17th century English composer Henry Purcell even though little is known about him. Purcell's life is reenacted and his music performed.


Tony Palmer

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Simon Callow ... Charles II
Michael Ball ... Henry Purcell
Rebecca Front ... Mary II
Lucy Speed ... Nell Gwyn
Letitia Dean Letitia Dean ... Barbara Palmer (Lady Castlemaine)
Nina Young ... Frances Purcell
John Shrapnel ... Samuel Pepys
Robert Stephens ... John Dryden
Terence Rigby ... Captain Henry Cooke
Bill Kenwright Bill Kenwright ... Bill
Murray Melvin ... Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury
Corin Redgrave ... William of Orange
John Fortune ... Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon
Guy Henry ... James II
Peter Woodthorpe ... Kiffen


In 1960s, a British playwright attempts to reconstruct the life of real life 17th century English composer Henry Purcell even though little is known about him. Purcell's life is reenacted and his music performed.

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Also Known As:

England, my England See more »

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Did You Know?


The lines that Dryden recites ("Be judge yourself, I'll bring it to the test: / Which is the basest creature, man or beast? / Birds feed on birds, beasts on each other prey, / But savage man alone does man betray") are not by John Dryden but by his erstwhile patron the Earl of Rochester, with whom he had a bitter falling-out. See more »


One shot shows a stagehand turning a winch to lift Mary Tudor when she's playing Cupid. When she's being lowered, a shot shows the stagehand turning the winch in the same direction as previously. See more »


Colonel Wharton: Opera is a danger you would do best to avoid.
See more »

Alternate Versions

A version shown on BRAVO Television is 60+ minutes shorter with serious damage to plot and character. See more »


References Tous les matins du monde (1991) See more »


Sonata for trumpet and strings in D
Music by Henry Purcell
Performed by David Blackadder with English Baroque Soloists
Conducted by John Eliot Gardiner
See more »

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User Reviews

An excellent introduction to the music of Henry Purcell and an interesting commentary on Restoration England
3 July 2006 | by markswanSee all my reviews

Like many others, I guess, I made a point of taping (such a 20th century expression) this programme from the air when it had its TV premiere in Australia in 1995.

I can't count the number of times I've re-watched it. Each time I do, some different aspect of the treatment or the story come to the fore. I agree that, at first, the 'play within a play' approach can be a little off-putting. So can the direct commentary on UK political life.

Sometimes it becomes a little tiring that UK playwrights and filmmakers of the late 1980s and 1990s had such a thing about Margaret Thatcher and her politics. In 'Billy Elliot' it was the coal mine closures, in 'England, My England' it was the poll tax protests. Maybe I have the luxury of not being British (well, not quite, just an Anglo Australian with a British cultural upbringing, hence the love of Purcell), but it did not resonate particularly closely with me. But, then again, I understood the message.

The treatment of Restoration England and the musical life of Purcell is amazingly well handled. You could almost believe that Peyps and Dryden were addressing us from the screen. Colwell's Charles II is utterly convincing. Charles is at once a sympathetic and pathetic character.... sincerely concerned for his kingdom and people, yet given over to his own pleasures and concerns.

As for Harry, what can I say? As presented as a man on screen, and in the music we hear, he is the unsurpassed master of the English baroque. The selected orchestral and choral works, though tending to the popular, fit the scenes perfectly and add to the sense of wonder at his talent.

For those who've not enjoyed this movie, and who are fans of Purcell or baroque music generally, all I can say is, see it! You'll be rewarded.

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