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  • My husband and I are great aficionados of this story, and we have every single version available (except the Peter Sellar's travesty) - and our only quibble is that he still thinks the Ronald Coleman version is the best, while I think *this* version is the best. But I admit that it's hardly fair to compare a black-and-white movie, with the necessary time constraints, to a color (gotta show that RED HAIR!) mini-series with a great deal more scope to develop the characters, etc.

    I agree with the previous assessment of the British viewer about the cast, with the addition of saying that Victoria Weeks made a perfect Princess Flavia: a real grasp of the character as a person as well as a position - no cardboard/cookie cutter princess portrayal there. Malcolm Sinclair said that he felt it was rather obvious that he was very young and untried when he did the series, but I honestly can't see it.

    Perhaps one of the best things about the series is the feel; contributed to by not just the setting - everything had the look and feel of a small country tucked away in the requisite Balkans - but the costumes as well were undeniably the best of any version made to date. People rarely think about costuming setting the mood, but with a period piece, it is crucial to get the clothes right, or no one buys that it's another time and place.

    It's a crime, I tell you, a CRIME that the Beeb hasn't brought this out on video or DVD!!
  • It's about 20 years since I've seen this, so forgive the haze of nostalgia...

    This was a splendid BBC 1 Sunday tea-time serial, of the kind they don't make any more. At 3 hours, it had nearly twice the running time of the various film adaptations, so was able to include more of Hope's plot. It was well-acted: John Woodvine was the definitive Colonel Sapt (a middle-aged military bruiser - C Aubrey Smith was far too genteel, and too old, in the 1937 version!), and Jonathan Morris was a superbly malevolent Rupert von Hentzau to rival Ramon Novarro and Douglas Fairbanks jr's big-screen portrayals.

    It was compelling, too: week after week, my friends and I would mark out our territory with cushions in the TV room in University Hall in St. Andrews, to watch it after Sunday afternoon tea. The main weaknesses in it that I can recall are milder than those of the cinema versions. Given the BBC budget, I think there were one or 2 cases of wobbly scenery. Pauline Moran, as Antoinette, seemed too young and girlish, not as much of a contrast with Flavia as she needs to have. Also, although George Irving (Holby City's Mr Meyer!) had the right dark intensity and, at 30, was young enough to be a credible Michael (who is meant to be under 27), the character was played as a shorn-headed, militaristic heavy, which is not the impression I get from the novel. (In Hope's book, Michael, who is referred to as a "mongrel" – the racist implications are clear in German – doesn't get on with the army, the Church hierarchy, or the upper classes, and is the much-loved champion of the urban poor - which suggests a) a rather less stuffy character; and b) that the socio-political morality of the original novel is, to say the least, perverse.) But then, all the adaptations I've seen have taken on trust the values of the narrator character, Rassendyll. Disappointingly, we didn't get the Michael v. Rupert swordfight or Antoinette chasing Rupert with a revolver - presumably because of the impact of the 1937 film, which also omitted these incidents.

    But I'd love to see it again, and I hope the BBC will see fit to issue it on DVD at some point.
  • I agree with the previous reviewer that this outstanding BBC serialisation of a timeless adventure story deserves an outing on DVD. The script and acting are first class, with standout performances from the upright and soldierly John Woodvine and a youthful Jonathan Morris (who looks very fetching in his Ruritanian uniforms).

    I am fortunate in having taped the series back in 1984. I intend to transfer this precious tape to DVD before the obsolete betamax VCR on which I made the recording finally gives up the ghost.

    The producers are very imaginative in the way they manage to conjure up the romantic Ruritanian scenery and interiors using limited resources. For example, with the addition of a few flags and banners the faux medieval Castel Coch near Cardiff convincingly serves as Black Michael's stronghold.