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4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars

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on 2 January 2017
First broadcast in 1986, repeated once in 1988 and then confined to the vaults for 20 years this is a superb drama based in the First World War, lost from view mainly because of claims of historical accuracy that could not be entirely backed up with the available evidence (one way or another). If only the BBC press office had been a little more circumspect and used a phrase like "based on" or "inspired by" then, you feel, this would be hailed as the classic it undoubtedly is.

The drama centres on the character of Percy Topliss and the events surrounding a mutiny at the British training camp in Etaples in 1917. The former undoubtedly existed, and the latter also happened, the only snag seems to be that there is no proof that the former was involved with the latter (nor any proof he wasn't).

But frankly all that hardly matters. There are far worse travesties of historical accuracy in film and TV drama out there and once you accept that this is not a documentary, but rather an Alan Bleasdale drama, thenn you cannot do anything by enjoy this rip-roaring Robin Hood-esque drama of the working class anti-hero and con-artist who uses luck, skill and subterfuge to get the better of the upper classes during the First World War and shortly after. And being Bleasdale its ever so slightly political too, though in truth not nearly so much as other productions of his, such as "Boys from the Blackstuff", for example.

As well as being brilliantly written, with the lead superbly played with a young Paul McGann in his first major TV role, backed up with most of the major TV character actors of the mid-80s. The four one-hour episodes fly by without an unwanted line or unnecessary scene. It may be 30 years old now, but its as fresh as if it were made yesterday - except they'd not make anything with this bite and depth today.

The only downside about the DVD is that there is nothing else but the drama itself. No "extras", which is a shame - but perhaps not surprising as there were probably none available 20 years after the

Even £6 for all this is a fantastic bargain!
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on 23 December 2013
Back in the eighties, it was ITV who ruled at the costume drama, with classics like Brideshead Revisited and The Jewel in The Crown spread over eleven and fourteen episodes. They literally don't make them like that any more. The BBC's period dramas had acting that was as cardboard as the set.

The Monocled Mutineer is what the Americans would call a mini-series. It doesn't quite have the scale of the ITV productions; it's four episodes- three 75 mins and the finale is 90 mins. This is a spoiler-free review because I haven't actually seen the final episode! I just got so excited that I decided to review anyway.

The DVD back cover humorously says that it is a "supposedly true story", whereas the general consensus is that it is willfully historically inaccurate. To be honest, unless you are particularly familiar with WW1 minor figure Percy Toplis, I doubt it will bother you. If it does, never watch a play, film or TV show again. The look of the whole thing, from what I can tell, is factually accurate. It's certainly not the 1940 film of Pride and Prejudice, where everyone's wearing outfits from Civil War melodrama Gone with The Wind! The cover also clears up the myth that the show has never been repeated; it was repeated once, in 1988, but not since then.

You know when people go a bit gooey over the 'golden era' of Hollywood? I have the same reaction to these eighties mini-series. They're well-written, well-acted, well-shot...simply good stories that gave us a look at British history that was both nostalgic and critical. With its script written by 'Boys From The Black Stuff' writer Alan Bleasdale, The Monocled Mutineer is mostly critical. At the time, people complained that it was all part of some lefty agenda at the BBC and that it was ruining the honour of the soldiers who fought in it. The Monocled Mutineer certainly has things in common with Boys From The Black Stuff- Toplis's mutiny is clearly reminiscent of the worker's unions- but it's not a rehash or allegory, even if Thatcher Britain saw things in it that reflected their own society.

In a way, I would have liked it to have been longer. Unlike Brideshead or Jewel, which are rammed full of fascinating characters, the focus of The Monocled Mutineer is on, well, 'The Monocled Mutineer'- AKA Percy Toplis. This was Paul McGann's first big role and he just exudes charisma and talent. Though he looks as if he wouldn't last a day in the war, this works in his favour, as Toplis tries to avoid getting involved in, well, anything. Maybe that's what wound up the public; Toplis is a self-serving anti-hero. His big trick is to impersonate an officer so he can go off and have a bit of fun occasionally and McGann manages to play both working-class Yorkshire lad and public-school educated officer beautifully. It's an interesting commentary on how class is simply an accident of birth and that there is nothing inherently special about the upper classes. Another actor would undoubtedly have been stronger playing one class than the other (imagine Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady) but McGann plays them equally as well, giving the impression of a young man whose identity is completely fluid.

I'm not sure how close this is to the real-life Percy Toplis. From photos, Toplis looks like a shifty scallywag, whereas McGann is strikingly good-looking. You might argue that it's just romanticising history but I think that Toplis needs to be at least superficially attractive for the audience to see how people might have fallen for his charisma. McGann's character is still scally-waggish and a bit unpleasant- refreshingly, Bleasdale finds some black humour and irony in this. Instead of making Toplis the baddie or trying to underplay his unpleasantness and making him a working-class hero, Toplis remains enigmatically ambiguous. Is he a reluctant hero or merely just a stirring trickster?

However there are two other great characters- Timothy West as Brigadier General Thomson, who allows the brutalities in the Etaples training camp to happen and mourns that the days when an officer was respected are no longer, and Penelope Wilton as Lady Angela Forbes, who serves the tea at the camp and objects to the sadistic training methods. The dialogue and power play between the two is hilarious, even though the subject matter is brutal. Aside from McGann, Wilton has the best lines. I won't paraphrase because it'll lose some of the brilliance, so you'll just have to watch it!

As for the DVD itself, it's a bare bones version. Unlike the VHS, which merged episodes into one long film, the DVD is split into the original four episodes. Happily, there are English subtitles, which is more than you'll get on some DVDs, and as a nice little treat, the main menus use the glorious theme tune as a background and the scene selection menus use McGann's lovely version of 'Let The Great Big World Keep Turning'. You might want some smelling salts by you for that moment in the series because any woman is bound to swoon.

Interesting trivia: Paul McGann was originally meant to star in nineties historical TV series Sharpe, and he shows all the necessary qualities in The Monocled Mutineer. However an injury meant that Sean Bean stepped in- for the better I think. Excellent actor though McGann is, I don't buy him as a fighting type (though he's played many dashing soldiers), whereas Sean Bean is a man's man as well as a ladies' man. McGann got his chance to steal a role when he beat Withnail and I co-star Richard E Grant to the role of the Doctor in Doctor Who. Ah, the many what-ifs of film and television...
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on 12 October 2007
Why did we have to wait Twenty Years ?

The first episode was transmitted on the 31 st of August 1986 by the BBC and was split into four episodes and if you have never seen it then you are in for a Huge treat.

Yes I appreciate that although it was claimed at the time to be ' 100 % accurate ' that it may or may not be as accurate as Claimed.

The political crisis that was caused by the BBC's broadcast of Alan Bleasdale's adaptation, "The Monocled Mutineer" was fuelled by the British press and its denouncement of the factuality of the series, retired staff of the British High Command sent letters to newspapers angrily refuting that there had ever been a mutiny by the British army in 1917.

The true account of Percy Toplis' involvement in the very real mutiny by the conscripted soldiers in the training camp (known as The Bull Ring) at Etaples will perhaps be made a little clearer in 2017 when the official military files concerned will be released into public domain.

Even when the official papers are released in ten years time will we be any the wiser as there is bound to be a bit of spin put on it .

Really I doubt if we will ever know the full truth but one thing is for ' certain ' its taken over twenty years to reach DVD and with out a doubt it has to be Paul McGann's best work.
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on 6 March 2008
Like other reviewers I was glad this came out on DVD (I also have the video tape version). One reviewer sated that it was not like the book, which is partially true. However, it does reflect the times and the circumstances of that rebellion at Entaples (which is still shrouded in mystery). The programme itself is brilliantly acted and the story entertaining and credible. I think it captures the period during and just after the First World War. Alan Bleasdale has done a good job of dramatising this. I certainly did not find it boring as one reviewer did. True, it does not have constant action and violence but the story is told well and not only entertaining but edifying as well. It certainly does not rely on special sound effects or slick and 'clever' camera tricks that mar so much of contemporary television.
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on 15 September 2010
I first saw this when I was about eight and it had a massive effect on me. Surprisingly, it's just as good as I remember it. It feels real, and the performances are excellent, as is the script, the music and everything else.
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on 9 July 2009
Wonderful TV production. McGann is magnificent in the starring role. The film depicts aspects of life before and during World War 1 that are usually neglected . Warm, funny and bitterly tragic at the same time.
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on 12 February 2012
I notice that some reviewers fall into the (pedantic) trap of dismissing this wonderful drama because (they claim) it is not historically accurate. I wonder if they also dismiss Shakespeare, who (inaccurately) based many of his plays on historical events, or Orwell, for getting the future wrong? People, this is FICTION, and while it may have been inspired by an historical event, it does not claim to be an infallible reference for history students. I agree with all the positive comments about this play: beautifully written, marvellously acted, fantastic screen play and emotionally moving. I first watched it in 1986, and have enjoyed it even more in 2012. What no one else has mentioned is Paul McGann's beautiful tenor singing voice - a sheer delight - and I wonder why more hasn't been made of that by casting directors in the intervening years. Most highly recommended.
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on 22 June 2001
Paul McGann is fantastic as the seldom known Percy Toplis who, as many young working class men, was forced into the trenches of the first world war. However Percy Toplis is a rebel, and using his skills as a confidence trickster turns the war to his own advantage. We witness his life from a child to his death at the hands of the police. Along the way we join in his adventures, seeing him masquerade as a high ranking officer, become a bolshevik and then later take control of a mutiny at Etaples training camp, eventually becoming the most wanted man in Britain and going in the run. The insight into Toplis' character is fantastic. we begin to understand him perfectly, really liking him and even get angry with the characters surrounding him. He is, I suppose, a cross between Del-boy trotter, James Bond, Blackadder and Private Walker from Dad's Army. The backdrops are great and the musical score outstanding, creating a real old fashioned atmosphere. The scenes in the trenches are particularly haunting. It is a bit like a period drama, but with wit and action. It is a true fact that the Etaples mutiny was covered up by the government for decades, and only became public knowledge in the late 1970's.This is The reason the real Percy Toplis is not so well known today, so although some scenes differ from the factual book by William ALlison and John Fairley, The Monocled Mutineer does have some historical importance.
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on 18 February 2017
Rarely does a Google search create as much excitement as a (fairly well made) wartime polit-thriller. The mutineer hero/anti-hero is Percy Toplis. Was there ever a such a person? Yes. Most of the film concerns his involvement in the mutiny at Etaples in 1917. Was there ever a mutiny at Etaples? Despite years of government denials, despite the disappearance of almost the whole government archive on this subject, despite the fact that the remaining fragments of the archive will not be relaeased until this year (2017) a HUNDRED YEARS after the event, yes, there was a mutiny, and, apparently, the film depicts the actual events as closely as (non-documentary) films usually do. Was Percy Toplis involved in the mutiny? Maybe, maybe not. It isn't important. Hundreds of men not so different from Toplis definitely were involved, helpless cannon-fodder driven to desperation by bullying and humiliation, every soldier's worst nighmare realised in broad daylight by trained, licenced and uniformed killers. The film was made 30 years ago and technicallly it is far from perfect (the pace falters, characters blur into each other, and the narrative flow isn't always comfortable) but it gets five stars from me because it digs deep and it asks endless questions, in particular questions about fake news in wartime and in the aftermath to wartime. Truth, it is said, is the first casualty of war. Doesn't the War Office owe these "mutineers"and their descendants a true account of what happened at Etaples nearly a century ago, or does the government still believe that British (and colonial) troops don't mutiny, and it they do, it's best to hide the fact from the stupid, undiscerning, tax-paying public. Watch the film first, then Google Percy Toplis and Etaples Mutiny. (If you have time, dig beyond the Wikipedia articles.) This is fascinating stuff.
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on 9 June 2015
Saw this when it first came on TV and was blown away by it. A brilliantly acted series detailing Percy Topliss, a petty criminal caught up in the First World War, as he impersonates officers in order to escape the horror. Though the real PT was not so lovable, and some of the episodes are speculation and artistic license, it nevertheless is compulsive viewing. Interestingly, while shooting the film the car carrying Paul McGann (who played Topliss brilliantly) suddenly stopped for no reason - right on the spot where Percy was gunned down...
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