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Age of Kings. An overview.

December 1, 2020
An Age of Kings (BBC/Illuminations) - The Bardathon

So I finished it. The Age of Kings in its entirety.

This is a landmark production in the history of television drama and it inaugurated a golden age of ambition that lasted until the mid 1980s. Central to this ambition was the belief that drama should aspire to the condition of theatre rather than film.

The viewers of Age of Kings in 1960 were encouraged to imagine themselves occupying good seats in a medium sized theatre. The special effects are therefore congruent with the expectations that might be rationally associated with such an institution.

The detailed design of these sets was, however, determined by a foreknowledge of what they would look like given a particular level of televisual resolution. This is one of the reasons why I’m not a fan of high resolution recrafting of old films and TV. Some of these late Plantagenet castles would look less not more realistic if we could see every bit of brushwork. They are, however, perfectly crafted toward a particular degree of definition. When we lose any aesthetic appreciation for that degree of definition, we will lose something important.

Christopher Whelen’s music is delightfully original and frequently disturbing. At times, it is overused – so as to amplify a dominant emotion rather than offer a tangential commentary upon it. This is a frequent bugbear.

But ultimately it comes down to the performances. There are certain roles in this double-tetralogy that generate such expectations that disappointment can sour the whole viewing experience. Henry V, Falstaff, and Richard III must be done well or the groundlings will get restless.

Robert Hardy is the best Hal I have seen on screen and Paul Daneman is one of the best Richards. Hal should be at least as sinister as Richard III and Richard at least as charismatic as Hal. Hardy and Daneman both achieve this. Hardy’s genuine capacity for affection is constantly being overruled by his tactical resolution, whereas Daneman offers a consummate courtier who is, goshdarnit, just plain fun to be with. Frank Pettingell is not a star name – not a name to conjure with – but his Falstaff is remarkable, someone whose power to fascinate and power to devastate are balanced within the same scene, the same speech, the same gesture.

Thank you Matthew Morgenstern, for giving me the opportunity to view and comment on this series – a series which will now live, rent free, in my Shakespearean imagination, for the rest of my days.

Thoughts on individual episodes:

Episode One

Episode Two

Episode Three

Episode Four

Episode Five

Episode Six

Episode Seven

Episode Eight

Episode Nine

Episode Ten

Episode Eleven

Episode Twelve

Episode Thirteen

Episode Fourteen

Episode Fifteen

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