Anyone seeking to widen their acquaintance with either history or historical drama need look no further than this wonderful BBC set from 1969.
Based on Winston Churchill's Marlborough: His Life and Times
, this production is virtually faultless in scripting, acting, direction, costumes and just about everything else. All the settings are completely believable (putting French television's Les rois maudits
into unfavourable contrast); even the battle scenes are convincingly done, although the cast is not huge.
But dominating everything is the magnificent performance of Susan Hampshire as Sarah Churchill, which justly won her an Emmy; right now I can't think of a more commanding performance in any medium, even Paul Scofield's Thomas More. Neither are any of the supporting cast less than first rate — I must make particular mention of Margaret Tyzack's lonely and rather pathetic Queen Anne, John Standing's lovely sympathetic Sidney Godolphin, and a host of delightfully repulsive political back-stabbers and other minor characters.
I do not have Churchill's huge Marlborough opus to hand, but I do have The History of the English-Speaking Peoples
, and in nearly nine hours the only historical error I noticed was a brief glimpse of a lute with machine-heads.
If you loved Elizabeth R
and I, Claudius
, then this saga of the most brilliant soldier of his day, sandbagged by dim-witted monarchs and spiteful politicians, will not fail to fascinate you too.