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The Deposition of a King: The Age of Kings Part 2 – Reviewed.

April 21, 2020


When Bolinbroke (Tom Fleming) sits on the throne for the very first time, it wobbles.

Of course lots of things wobbled on TV in 1960s, not just furniture but doors and walls also.  However, this particular wobble is ominous.  Even if director Michael Hayes had had the luxury of multiple takes – he should have kept that wobble in.

Bolinbroke has just been denounced by Frank Windsor – one of many familiar faces in this extended drama – who plays the Bishop of Carlisle.  Windsor goes all out with this great prophetic rant, describing the long term consequences of deposition – a speech that has even greater resonance in the context of a series that we know is going to include the Wars of the Roses.

It is notable that Shakespeare never offers us a scene or a speech in which Bolinbroke decides to take the throne.  It is never quite clear when the tipping point is when he moves from asserting his rights to the Duchy of Lancaster to taking over the kingdom.  It “just sort of happens”.  Shorn of all power, Richard struggles against the smooth elision that Bolinbroke wants and demands that the nature of the coup stand exposed for what it is.

The sets are very impressive in this episode (which might as well be called Richard II Part 2).  Best of all is when the camera pans slowly and sorrowfully across the bedraggled garden, the garden that will provide so many horticultural metaphors for political malaise.  These sets are the work of people who knew how to stretch a budget to create something that would look atmospheric on a low definition black and white TV screen.  Age of Kings should never be “remastered”.  I’m not sure anything should.

David William’s Richard is, of course, far more regal after deposition.  Wearing a plain black cassock, he is reduced to the bare statement of his claim.  As Richard astutely remarks, when he was a king he had subjects for his flatterers – but once subjected he has a king flattering him.  Towards the very end of the episode, in prison, Richard’s hair and beard have grown to Christlike proportions. and the camera focuses on the details of his face to a much greater extent.

This production recognises that power needs to be mystified (something Bolinbroke never achieves) and that Richard is never more of a king than when mystique is all he has to fall back on.  At times, this Richard reminds me of the engraving of Charles I on the frontispiece of Eikon Basilike – the borderline blasphemous Charles in the Garden of Gethsemane who exchanges his earthly crown for a crown of thorns.

Indeed, if the King is God’s image on earth, then the example of the incarnation suggests that the most Godly kings must expect to be murdered.  Fast forward to Henry VI…

One case in favour of republicanism that is rarely made is that enhances the romanticism of monarchism.  Deposed and/or exiled royals are far more fascinating and mysterious than actual royals.  The king over the water will always inspire more ballads than whatever ruler is on this side of it.  Republicanism also makes being a monarchist far more interesting because more elective.  Instead of merely being the default setting of a particular polity, the passive acceptance of a status quo – monarchists in a republic have made a particular decision to venerate a family – have gone to some effort to preserve their relics, and can express their allegiance with peculiar poignancy.

Julian Glover plays this role as “Groom” visiting Richard in prison – someone whose loyalty is worth something because he has nothing to profit by it.


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