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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 12 June 2011
Viewing this when it was first shown on ITV gave me my first experience of Colin Firth - long before Pride & Prejudice and even before Tumbledown. At 25 he grabbed my attention and I vowed to watch out for him in the future. His performance manages to combine gauchenss with an inner strength and great charm. Much of the time he is a spectator to the main action but it's difficult to take your eyes off him. He also manages a convincing Yorkshire accent with remarkable consistency - very important given his major narrative role. Equally mesmerising (appropriately) is John Castle as his Uncle Nick, the dazzling stage magician, who combines a brutal callousness with a vulnerability this actor always brings to a part. The supporting cast is excellent, including a last TV appearance from Laurence Olivier and the production values are superb. It seems no expense was spared to create the world of Music Hall in the months preceding WW1 and it has a feel of real autenticity. Although you get over 10 hours of viewing, the pace never slackens.

Do not be put off by this being a region 1 product. Multi region DVD players are commonplace now or a conversion is easy. This is definitely a good buy.
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on 29 February 2008
A soldier is killed on the Western Front in WWI. Cut to the golden age of the music hall era. Thus we are set on Colin Firth's voyage of discovery, where he meets true love, true lust, madnes, brutality, laughter and his own identity. Along the way there is the vanished world of live magic (to the amazement of an uncynical audience), bawdy comic stage acts, fabulous song and dance numbers (very faithful to the period)and beautiful women.
Colin Firth gives the first of many very assured performances of a decent, naive, handsome young man out to experience the world from a provincial backwater to the gypsy life of the music halls of Britain.
If you like handsomely mounted drama productions, with multi-faceted stories, an excellent sense of the period and outstanding performances, then buy this.
Of special note is the stunning Carmen De Sautoy. She portrays the kind of woman (beautiful, daring, assured, very intelligent and mysterious) that no man could resist. John Castle is, as always, a scene stealer - quite riveting. Sir Laurence Olivier gave his last TV performance in this - a nod towards Archie Rice's "Entertainer". Beattie Edney (whatever happened to her?) is excellent as Firth's true love - she has a gift for dancing. Can she really sing as well as she seems to?
There are no extras except a photobook. It is so unjust that this series is not available for retail in Britain - the country where it came from. Strange, as it's only been shown once on TV - and I'm certain it's never been on Cable or digital.
It's outstanding entertainment - far more so than the far more lauded and well known Brideshead Revisited
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Thought I'd give this a try - I didn't catch its original showing in the late '80s - as it covers the year immediately preceding the outbreak of WW1, exactly 100 years ago. It is also 50 years since Priestley's original novel was first published, which gives part of the discordant tone to the drama; there's a hard streak of cynicism in the men, and a knowing sexuality in the women, that sits as more contemporary in feel than might be expected. Put most simply it's a year in the life of an inexperienced young man, working the music halls in 1913/1914 - superficially a golden age of theatre mirroring the sense of complacent contentment in the country at large, with the looming threats (cinema/the approaching conflict) encroaching.

The drama is tightly plotted, and the characterisations superb. Early Colin Firth, as the ubiquitous Richard Herncastle, catches the eye, battling his raging libido with a mix of naivety and pomposity fuelled by his ambitions as an artist; John Castle's sardonic and steely Uncle Nick gives compelling commentary to the illusions on the stage and the deceptions off it. It's also a nostalgic reminder of the leisurely and sumptuous multi-part ITV/Granada dramas of the 1980s, another lost empire!

Essential viewing for Firth fans, and enthusiastically recommended for lovers of TV drama series at their very best.
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on 15 October 2012
This series is based on one of J.B.Priestley's best works and belongs to the period in the 1980s when Classic TV drama adaptations ruled the small screen. It boasts a stellar cast including Sir Laurence Oliver, John Castle,a very young Colin Firth, Brian Glover and Pamela Stephenson but is indebted to the script by the great Ian Curteis who also wrote Churchill and the Generals and Philby, Burgess and McLean.It is an accurate evocation of the lost age where the Music Hall was the entertainment medium of choice for a wide spectrum of the great British Public and follows the fortunes of a typical touring company of the time with their triumphs and tragedies, internal feuds, loves and hates. This is up there with The Forsyte Saga and Brideshead Revisited as one of the great TV Drama Series. [ASIN:B007T8690Q Lost Empires [DVD].
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on 7 June 2008
I loved this when it was first shown over 20 years ago, and have never forgotten it, even though it has never been repeated to my knowledge. This DVD is a US issue, which has some cuts. A suffragette character never appears, although a photo of a scene at her meeting is included in the extras! Additionally, scenes involving Roy Barracough & Lila Kaye have been missed out. I don't know how much is missing, but there's enough to give you a good idea of the characters & story. I imagine the cuts were made to fit the US Masterpiece Theatre time-slot.

Colin Firth is superb as a (very young) hero, and John Castle is equally good as his sinister uncle. Too many other great performances to mention, and the previous reviewer is absolutely right. Highly recommended, although the full thing would be even better, hence only four stars.
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on 21 July 2012
...and who doesnt, here he is with the down still on his cheeks. This is something more than a costume drama. It sticks unswervingly to Priestly's text and captures its sinister sense of theatre, of things hidden behind masks. It reminds me of The Blue Angel, tragedy and humiliation under the clown's greasepaint. The narrative voice, spoken by Colin Firth is more profound than the soap opera adaptations we are accustomed to. Also I was amazed at the number of extras involved, not only the theatre audiences but the seaside crowds at Blackpool, the stations, the soldiers; and what was that ferret doing in the trench?

I thought this may have dated but oddly enough it seems to date the recent costume productions. They are too clean. Everyone seems to have been to the same tailor. This really feels like loking at Britain before the Great War. There are scruffy actors and seedy tarts and too dapper young men. There are people with big teeth and fat legs. The restaurants dont look like stage sets. It looks like paintings by Degas.

I wonder if Botox and dentistry and personal trainers have now made it impossible to present an authentic period flavour on television. Our actors are too beautiful.

Colin Firth, very serious, can't help being a heart throb. Laurence Olivier is painfully convincing. All the acting seems to me on a more professional level than anything I have seen recently as if, before our cult of celebrity, they are acting the parts and not themselves playing the parts.

Amazingly good stuff, unpredictable, gritty powerful. Please watch this.
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on 21 August 2014
An interesting curiosity. Ian Curteis' adaptation of Priestley's novel is rather rambling and, surprisingly, Colin Firth gives a muted performance as young Richard but John Castle is very good as his uncle Nick, the stage magician. It catches the atmosphere of pre WW1 music halls very well.
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on 17 April 2013
A wonderful adaption of JB Priestly's novel. Engaging stories. Great cast, including a young Colin Firth in one of his earliest roles and a stunning performance from Laurence Olivier in his last. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 August 2014
Although it has high production values and an astonishing cast, I really found it rather hard to get into the first episode which, on this version, is just over 90minutes, and felt very long. Could this have been as it was originally screened?
The transfer is fine for a television drama of this period and clearly much loving dedication has gone into the recreation of this lost world of theatre and he detail is exceptional - but somehow it just didn't really work for me. Perhaps it was Colin Firth's accomplished, but rather "cold" central performance as the innocent thrust into a world so bizarre and challenging. It was both 'real" and impressive but I didn't ultimately care abut his character. However this may be what was intended by the director who wished for us to have an objective distance. I l know i have only seen Episode One and I may rewrite this 'review' when I have seen all the episodes - but as it stands, after that first 90minutes, i don't really know if I want to watch any more. I'm confident however that it will give considerable pleasure to many other people so don't let me put you off if you like this sort of thing. I believe this is the full print too - rather than the cut American version - so that's clearly a bonus for fans.
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on 17 February 2014
I have seen this several times, and it really have the mood of the time period, and the music as well.
Colin Firth is really perfectly casted, as well as John Castle and the rest of the cast.
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