This month we explore the wayward world of King Charles II as seen through the eyes of film director Joe Wright and the words of biographer extraordinaire, Antonia Fraser.
King Charles II in Four Hours
Have you got a spare four of hours? Great. Go pour yourself a large glass of wine (it’s autumn so it has to be red), or a steaming cup of tea and prepare to enter the world of Charles II.
First broadcast on the BBC in 2003, Joe Wright’s delightful period drama Charles II: Power and the Passion was a career maker for the young director who went on to direct the Oscar nominated Pride and Prejudice and Atonement. It also saw Rufus Sewell’s star rise through his excellent turn as Charles II – one of the most likeable monarchs to sit upon the throne of England. If you don’t know that much about the Restoration, then this series is a great introduction. If you do, it is a very thoughtful interpretation of events.
Beginning with the gruesome death of King Charles I, the series spans several decades during the life his son, the ‘Merry Monarch’, Charles II. We are taken at breakneck speed as Charles returns from exile, battles the forces of parliament and shags his way through the ladies at court. Barbara Villiers is presented as a constant presence in Charles’ life, a lady who holds almost as much power as the Queen. Through Sewell, Charles comes across as charismatic pragmatist who loves women and wit in equal measure; a product of his times. The driving arc of the series is his battle to retain power against the limitations of parliament’s purse.
Of course there are historical inaccuracies (Barbara Villiers was considerably younger than Helen McCrory who plays her), but while many historical dramas fall flat, this is a gorgeous exception. Sewell is quite simply magnificent in the role of Charles and Rupert Graves is a great Buckingham. The History Vault heartily recommends.
The series can currently be found on Amazon for £6.98: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Charles-II-The-Power-Passion/dp/B000NA6VY6
King Charles II in Four Days.
Lady Antonia Fraser, King Charles II, (1979).
If you have a bit more time, we cannot recommend Lady Antonia Fraser’s biography of Charles II highly enough. Gorgeously written, it is popular history at its best – colourful, irreverent and mischievous. Objectively, there is probably little to no historical need to enquire about the length of Charles’ manhood, but in the midst of the colour and cadence of her writing, it seems of utmost importance. Like all of her biographies, her gift with words drags the world of Charles II kicking and screaming to life for the reader. It is a treasure of a book that is as easy to read as a novel, but packed with historical detail.
Here is a snippet for you:
The book is currently available on Amazon for £6.99: http://www.amazon.co.uk/King-Charles-II-Antonia-Fraser/dp/075381403X