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on July 10, 2002
Granada Television's 1986 "Lost Empires" is a series that proves that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Starring a sullen young Colin Firth, this eight-hour, three DVD set has held a place in my heart for the last 16 years. It was with much anticipation then that I opened this package and watched it anew with my family. Would it stand the test of time? Was it as great as I recalled?
Based on the novel by JB Priestley, LE chronicles the adventures of young Richard Herncastle (Firth), an aspiring landscape painter, who in 1913 accepts an offer from his hard-nosed Uncle Nick (John Castle II) to join his magic act and tour the great 'empire halls' on England.
Uncle Nick promises "I'll show you the world lad!" In the process young Richard gets more than he bargained for in the way of life adventures. . Firth's Herncastle finds himself thrown together with magicians, dwarfs, sad-sack comedians, flirty torch-song singers, suffragettes and aging Sir Lawrence Olivier. And he also quickly becomes the lightning rod that somehow touches all their lives.
The first half of LE, featuring Sir Lawrence Olivier as pathetic comedian Harry Barrard, Carmen du Sautoy as sultry Julie Blaine, John Castle's riveting Uncle Nick and Beattie Edney as love interest Nancy Ellis is where Lost Empires shines! We feel the whole world opening up for Richard as he is torn between Nancy and Julie. Every night this travelling company performs authentic song and dance numbers as we see World War I looming in the background.
Of special note is John Castle. Playing master illusionist "Ganga Dun" Castle's Nick Ollanton creates a character so vivid and steely that he virtually steals the DVD.
The second half of LE slows down a bit after young Richard has learned a few life lessons the hard way. The vibrant personalities of first half give way to more outrageous, less believable ones.
The DVD transfer is what you'd expect from most Granada product of the 80's: film grain is a bit much, but the colors are good, and I quickly "saw beyond" the grain of film. The sound is actually quite clear and vibrant with a large dynamic range. I frequently was "riding" the volume control to back off the volume when the director cut from quiet dialog scenes to the Empire performance scenes. There is no info booklet to speak of with the three discs which was a bit of a letdown (Brideshead Revisited ships with a rather informative booklet by contrast.) ...
If however you are looking for a group of clearly drawn characters desperate to hold onto a way of living, performing and loving as "The New World" is about to crush them under war and the onset of "talking movies" then LE is for you. If you've got the dough to spare, get it. If you're unsure, pick up Brideshead Revisited instead.
Me, I'm happy now that my "Masterpiece Theater" DVD shelf contains the three things I've always wanted: Brideshead, Prime Suspect and now Lost Empires.
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on November 16, 2011
This is a beautiful movie, done in episodes for a TV series.
I have to admit that it took me a couple of episodes to really get into the story and learn to know the characters. Colin Firth who plays the sweet innocent guy stole my heart and soon I was eager to find out how his life would turn out. I did not think that starting the movie with the clip of the end of his life was a bright idea, because thoughout the whole story, I knew that he would not make it and this somewhat spoiled the entire plot.
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on March 9, 2003
This adaptation is one of the finest moments in television drama. I have also waited many years to see this series once again and it is everything that I remember. The story is set in the restricted pre WW1 North of England middle class society and is strangely exotic. It is full of curiosity, interest and richness. Colin Firth does a wonderful job as the central character, Richard Hearncastle. However John Castle as the strong and enigmatic Nick Ollanton is outstanding, I really can't imagine anyone else in that role.
This is a production of the highest calibre but something of a hidden gem. It deserves much more appreciation and recognition.
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on January 1, 2012
I had never heard of this series before as it was a British production, but it was terrific. Great acting by everyone. An intriguing story with so many wierd and wonderful characters. Olivier alone was worth seeing as it was one of, if not his last performance. John Castle was enchanting. You couldn't take your eyes off his performance. Very mysterious. Firth's innocent character seemed to be a magnet for all the strange people around him and that enabled the viewer to study each one through his experiences. I thought his performance extraordinary for his age at the time. It was also very interesting from the historical viewpoint of the decline of British vaudeville and the approach of WW1. A great series.
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on August 15, 2003
I originally saw Lost Empires on public broadcasting and it became one of my favorites, right up there with I Claudius and The Duchess of Duke Street. The cast is exceptional especially John Castle as Uncle Nick (why oh why do we so little of this wonderful, sexy actor?). The entire production is glorious, taking the viewer right back to the days of pre WWI.
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on September 17, 2011
I have heard about this production for many years but never could find it! The Music is grand and of course the acting supurb. Colin Firth does a great job in this of his first roles I believe. The woman Julia Parrott who plays Vesta Tilly is tremendous! And of course Olivier...although at the end of his acting wonderful as the sad...comedian..past his prime!

This was a joy to watch...Couldn't be happier to have finally obtained a copy.
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on July 21, 2013
Interesting character studies in authentic looking settings. Accurate historical context. Captures the mood of a Britain leading up to the start of the Great War. Colin Firth a solid performer - and looking quite young. John Castle as his Uncle Nick is sardonic and suspicious of everyone's motives. Quite humorous at times. Picture quality is rather poor by today's standards. All in all, an interesting and unique series. Well worth watching.
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on January 23, 2003
This one ranks up there with "Pride and Prejudice" for the true Firth fan! You must have it in your collection. Colin Firth is young in this one..but there are definite signs of the smoldering Darcy we all know and love. Best of all, he is in almost every scene...hours and hours of hot, hetero FIRTH! (By the way, when is somebody going to realize this guy sells movies to woman of all ages? Get him some good roles!!)
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on March 17, 2003
What a pleasure to watch these dvds. The story flows and moves gracefully through each chapter. Firth is magnificent. Awards should have been given for this production. All the actors put so much into their performances. And to have Colin Firth narrating the entire story was music to my ears. We need more Colin Firth.
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on June 10, 2002
I so enjoyed Lost Empires that I watched all three DVD's in two days! It was wonderful -- entertaining, marvelous. I cannot say enough. Colin Firth was outstanding! Do yourself a favor and get Lost Empires. It is something to watch over and over again.
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