Monday, 2 April 2018

Patrick Stewart as Lenin is one of many surprises in FALL OF EAGLES (1974), the forgotten but definitive pre WW1 history drama

 It's talky, it's ancient. It contains literally no action or sex. FALL OF EAGLES (1974) is stagey, stodgy drawing room drama with fancy costumes.

But if you are invested in YouTube's The Great War, that era and historical drama in general, this is a lost gem. Over  13 episodes it shows the lead up to  and events of the Great War, the 1860s to 1918, not from the perspective of Britain or France but from the three doomed Imperial houses, the Hapsburgs, the Romanovs and the Hohenzollerns.

Fall of Eagles stands in contrast to most depictions of the world pre -1914, which tend to  show the Belle Epoque as a kind of Edwardian uotpia. With the amount of incompetence and unreality on show here you will be slightly surprised to find this world of deluded and ruthless kings and emperors lasted as long as it did.  For all my immersion lately in this era I'd never heard of the events of the Mayerling scandal  (featured in episode 4) and was genuinely shocked by it.

The writing is pretty good, and features such names of the time as Troy Kennedy Martin (The Italian Job, Edge of Darkness).

It's the casting though which will catch the eye, with many British acting stars appearing in surprising roles.

The presence of Patrick Stewart  (as Lenin) and Freddie Jones make this look like a re-skinned Dune saga and its easy to imagine Fall of Eagles was prescribed watching a decade later in pre-production for David Lynch's Dune (1984).

Brits will find lots of forgotten faces from BBC tv. Future sitcom stars Dianne Keen and Jan Francis look absolutely stunning and fully hold their won against the abundant acting talent around them.

Kurt Jurgen's makes Bismark an almost tragic figure

Micheal Aldridge (of Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy and later.. Last of The Summer Wine) makes for a surprisingly sympathetic Rasputin

But best of all, and how I found this show, is Barry Foster of Hitchcock's Frenzy and Van Der Valk. His depiction of Kaiser Wilhem II  is probably the definitive dramatic portrayal (so far) and he steals every scene he's in. His final moments, pleading that the world remember how many women and children were starved to death by the British blockade, are sad and poignant.

Apparently Fall of Eagles itself fell down the back of the sofa of television history because it was overshadowed by a similar project at the same time. I, Claudius is truly classic tv but shouldn't erase the memory of this saga, which has enough detail and primitive Game of Thrones family saga appeal to be well worth checking out.
But be warned, HBO it's not.
In fact, if you are reading this over there at Home Box Office, and wondering what to follow Game of Thrones with, remaking this show wouldn't be a terrible idea.

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