The Merry Monarch
Fans of the Restoration period will be delighted with this BBC dramatization of the reign of England’s king, Charles II. The film begins with Charles (Rufus Sewell) still living in exile, and then it swiftly moves to his return to England in 1660. The story touches on the political troubles faced by Charles during his reign, but the politics of the day share equal space with the trials and tribulations Charles experienced at the hands of his many mistresses. The Last King: The Power and the Passion of Charles II selects a handful of the King’s mistresses for this film–the more famous ones–Barbara Castlemaine, Nell Gwyn, and Louise de Keroualle. The Queen’s, (Catherine of Braganza) often-problematic relationship with Charles is also analyzed in quite some detail.
All the acting is top-notch. Rufus Sewell as Charles II, Shirley Anderson as Catherine of Braganza, and Rupert Graves as the Duke of Buckingham–are perhaps the most engaging members of this glittering cast of players. While many of the actors and actresses did not match my visual idea of their historical counterparts, the superb acting soon cast aside any marginal doubts I had. The costumes are sumptuous, and the sets excellent (with only a few cheesy spots during the Fire of London). The aging of Charles II is handled most adeptly.
However, with all the good points to the film, I would add that a basic knowledge of ‘who’s-who’ in the period is essential. The film does not yield explanations, so the viewer had better have a context to place the action in, or you may stand to be hopelessly lost. Also, this film chose to concentrate its focus on the women in the king’s life. My ideal mini-series about Charles II would probably last somewhere between 20-30 hours and include much more biographical information, and exploration of the political events of the age. While the film does an excellent job, many fascinating aspects to Charles’ character are not covered here. That is most unfortunate–but unavoidable given the time constraints. I was particularly disgruntled that Rochester had such a tiny role. But my little peevish grumbles aside, I have to acknowledge that the film was quite wonderful.
The DVD extra includes interviews with many of the major cast members. I often dislike these sort of interviews as I am usually disappointed, but in this case, the actors presented very intelligent interpretations of their characters, and this extra feature was worthwhile.