Thursday, July 23, 2020

The Devil's Crown (1978)

Alex Wilcock has blogged about the 2012 BBC series The Hollow Crown, comparing it with another take on Shakespeare's history plays - An Age of Kings from 1960.

It's a good post and put me in mind of a different television history series: The Hollow Crown. This was broadcast in the spring and summer of 1978.

The Hollow Crown told the story of Henry II and his sons. I remember the studio sets inspired by illuminated manuscripts, complete with their odd sense of perspective, and the wonderful cast.

Henry II was played by Brian Cox, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine by Jane Lapotaiore and their son Richard I by Michael Byrne. Further down the cast list you will find Patrick Troughton, ZoĆ« Wanamaker and Freddie Jones.

Two of the most striking performances were given by actors now likely to be remembered as stalwarts of police series.

Thomas Becket was played with suitable intransigence by Jack Shepherd, later best know for ITV's Wycliffe. In 1978 he was a radical figure and two years before had played the lead role in Bill Brand, a series about an idealistic left-wing Labour MP.

King John was played by John Duttine, later a stolid sergeant in Heartbeat. But here he is an electric figure and was to win a TV Times best actor award for his performance in To Serve Them All My Days in 1980. (There is a good Backlisted podcast about the original novel.)

It being the 1970s, the young Prince Arthur, who meets a particularly horrible end for arguably being the rightful king ahead of John, was played by Simon Gipps-Kent

There is even a Liberal connection. One of the two writers of the Devil's Crown was Ken Taylor, the adoptive father of the former Liberal MP Matthew Taylor.

The Devil's Crown ran to thirteen 55-minute episodes. It was a different world, but you can sample it because the whole series is on Youtube.

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