Rescued from exile by a desperate Parliament, Charles II returns to the throne at the age of 30. As the Plague and the Great Fire brings London to its knees, Charles nurtures the wittiest, most lascivious and decadent court of all time. A sensitive and promiscuous lover, he entertains an array of mistresses including high-born Barbara Villiers, sparky streetwise actress Nell Gwyn and aristocratic French spy Louise de Keroualle. Still traumatized by the execution of his father, Charles is forced to play politics with the Parliament that killed him and proves himself a canny and ruthless politician. Meanwhile, with a lack of a legitimate heir, his squabbling family grow ever more frantic
The four hour-long episodes cover the Restoration, the Plague and the Fire of London, the secret treaties with France and the Popish Plot, as well as giving us a fair bit of Charles's moderately happy marriage to Catherine (Shirley Henderson in the most hideously accurate historical hairdos ever) and his affairs with various mistresses. Among a number of fine supporting performances, Rupert Graves stands out as Buckingham, the friend who betrayed Charles. This sort of costume drama only ever works if the acting is as good as it is here.
On the DVD: Charles II on disc comes with a making-of documentary and a commentary on the first episode from writer Adrian Hodge and the director and producer. It also includes an extended documentary on Charles's back story--his education, his attempt to fight Cromwell's forces, his period on the run in England and his long exile--in which a number of eminent historians, including Richard Holmes and Ronald Hutton, talk about how he became the king he was. --Roz Kaveney
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