on 28 April 2005
This series is absolutly fanatastic! I saw 2 espisodes 13 years ago and have been searching for it ever since. When I saw it on Amazon UK I had to have it and went out and bought a multi regional DVD player. It was worth every penny I spent. Historicly speaking this series is as accurate as I have ever seen with any other program. The dirctors managed to cover a 60 year period and hit most of the major points. They cover the infancy of nationalism, liberalism,the Balkan probems with which we still live today, the unification of Germany, the influence of Queen Victoria's family on 19th century European history, rise of marxisim and the inablity of the Hohenzollern, Romanovs, Hapsburg royal houses to recognize the signs of change as it was happening around them. The acting is great and the customs are wonderful. Patrick Stewart makes a wonderful Lenin and Curd Juergens is great as Bismark, Gayle Hunnicutt and Charles Kay are fantastic as the last Tsar and Tsarina of Russia. After having read so much about the history of these countries, their royal houses and political conflicts it was wonderful to see them come alive in this show.
on 19 December 2006
I am a history buff and especially enjoy reading about the late 19th and early 20th century of Europe. To my surprise, the historical details covered in this series were amazingly accurate and as comprehensive as one could include in a dramatic series such as this. Usually, great liberties and inaccuracies, including popular myths or simplifications mar these productions, but not this one. Even people only vaguely familiar with the slow flame-out of monarchy in these central and eastern European empires will be entertained and informed by watching this. I would also add that the acting, costumes and sets were very "theatre" like which I found to be quite "up close and personal" in a good sort of way. My only disappointment was the seemingly incomprehensible failure to cover the final days of the Hapsburg dynasty which was relegated to a single line in the last minute or two of the last episode when the German Kaiser asks an aide whether it is true that "the Austrian emperor has fled"? To me, unlike the overthrow of the German and Russian dynasties, the demise of the Austrian monarchy was a real tragedy. The collapse of Austria-Hungary, unlike the other two empires, resulted in the creation of innumerable small countries unable to defend themselves now against the predatory Nazi and Communist neo-imperial neighbors that followed within a decade. The last Emperor of Austria was a quiet reformer who, had he been given a chance, would have redeemed the failings of the ancien regime of his great uncle and perhaps avoided nearly a century of misery and domination by Germany and the Soviet Union that followed. Unlike the German Kaiser or Tsar Nicholas, who constantly held out against their ministers cries for reform, Kaiser Karl of Austria was on the leading edge of real reform within the Austrian empire which came, alas, too little and too late. This would have been a contrast and an interesting and largely unknown topic for this series to explore. The collapse of the Romanovs is well known to the world due to the assasination of the imperial family, but Americans and most Europeans have scant knowledge of the reason for the "power vacuum" left in the wake of the collapse of a very genial and benign Austria. As Voltaire once said about the Hapsburg empire, "if it did not exist, it would have to have been invented". Its collapse and disintegration proved the truth of Voltaire's words.
on 25 December 2004
This series was originally shown on BBC TV in 1974, just as I was becoming interested in this particular period of history. I was spellbound by it when it went out, and thirty years later on DVD it remains just as compelling.
In a sequence of plays, not strictly inter-connected, it looks at the closing years of the German Hohenzollerns, the Austrian Habsburgs, and the Russian Romanovs. The acting is first-rate, and the attention to historical detail is very accurate on the whole.
Barry Foster makes an amazingly lifelike Kaiser Wilhelm, Laurence Naismith (the elder Emperor Franz Josef), Charles Kay (Tsar Nicholas II) are just as good, and there are equally fine performances from Diane Keen as the young Empress Elisabeth, and Gemma Jones as 'Vicky', the ill-fated Empress Frederick.
Michael Hordern's narrative introductions set the scene nicely for each without being intrusive, there are various bonus interviews on the last disc, and a booklet full of useful background information as well as notes on each episode and on the major cast.
on 31 March 2005
I can't overstate how much I enjoyed this series. The sets,
the authentic costumes, the acting are all superb. My favorite
performances are those by Patrick Stewart who plays Lenin (the make-up men even gave Stewart the slighty Oriental eyelids that Lenin had, inherited from his Kalmyk grandmother), Barry Foster as Kaiser Wilhelm II, Curt Jurgens as Bismarck and Charles Kaye
as Tsar Nicholas II. Stewart's performance as Lenin is stupendous, displaying his cold fanaticism.
It should be pointed out, however, that the episodes are of
uneven quality. The episodes focusing on the Hapsburgs, i.e. the first where Emperor Franz Josef marries the Empress Elizabeth (his beloved "Sisi") and the later episode about the
suicide pact involving his son Crown Prince Rudolf and his mistress are not as well done as the others. On the other hand,
the episode showing Lenin's bringing about the historic split in the Russian Social Democratic Party into his Bolshevik (Majority) faction and the opposing Menshevik (Minority) in 1903 can stand alone as a dramatic program on its own. Here clearly shown are the roots of the tyranny the fanatic, amoral Lenin created and his split with Trotsky that, in spite of a reconciliation in 1917, would end up help bringing about his (Trotsky's) ultimate downfall at the hands of Stalin.
One scene in another episode that particularly impressed me showed that death of Tsar Alexander III and the conveying of the crown to his son Nicholas II. Nicholas is kneeling in front of the Russian Orthodox Patriarch who is proclaiming him
Tsar of all the Russias and Nicholas looks extremely vulnerable, child-like and really almost pathetic, incapable of bearing the burden of autocracy that he received.
One problem with the shows about Russia is that the major anti-Jewish pogroms that accompanied the revolutionary ferment of 1905 are not mentioned. Although there is mention of persecution of the Jews, these pogroms poisoned that attitude of the Western Democracies against the Tsarist regime, in the end leading to public pressure to prevent Britain from giving refuge to the Tsar and his family after they were overthrown. This is in spite of the fact that King George V of England was the Tsar's cousin. This is not made clear in the program.
In spite of this, the series is fantastic and I recommend this BBC historical series from the golden years of the 1970's.
on 27 December 2013
It is nearly 40 years since the BBC transmitted these episodes which relate the events that would shape Europe from the revolutions of 1848 to the end of the First World War. Three royal houses: Hohenzollern of Prussia (later Germany); Habsburg of Austria-Hungary and Romanov of Russia.............and one man - Lenin - who would be used by one of those houses to destroy another and - in so doing - would destroy itself.
As with so many of these resurrected programmes much of the joy derives from seeing the numerous fine actors (most of whom are now long dead) bringing their characters to life. There are so many but special mention must be made of Barry Foster who captures Kaiser Wilhelm II beautifully. Of all those who have played the doomed last Romanovs none portray the weaknesses of Nicholas and Alexandra better than Charles Kay and Gayle Hunnicutt.
Money was clearly thrown at this series for there is much location filming rather than studios sets. The colours are gorgeous. The quality of the DVD is generally very good indeed with some very minor blurring on occasions. Certainly not bad enough to spoil your viewing.
Patrick Stewart is a splendid Lenin but - sadly - the episode that is almost entirely given over to him and his politics was (for me ) a bore but many will disagree.
This DVD shows with almost cruel clarity what the BBC was once capable of. Compare its qualities with those missing from the recent 'The White Queen' and you may weep with frustration. This DVD is highly recommended.
on 13 January 2008
"Fall of Eagles" is a very difficult series to get through, the expansive storyline covers the actions of the three Imperial houses of Europe - The Romanovs, the Hohenzollerns and the Hapsburgs - in the years leading up to the first world war. The episodes jump between each of the three houses, often a couple of episodes and a lapse in time happening before the same royal family is featured again. The character roster is huge, and the use of different writers for each episode creates a big continuity problem in the series. The plot is dense and convoluted, and most of the political discussion is pretty heavy, so a good knowledge of history and a certain level of patience and intelligence is needed in order to understand what's going on.
But you have to admire "Fall of Eagles" for the scale of it's narrative, and the conviction with which it delivers it. The richness of the drama unfolds with perseverance, and what is great is that you can watch it again and again and uncover new plot devices/subtexts that you didn't catch upon the first viewing. Such a laborious effort to recreate history and bring it to life is encouraging, and in today's world of lightweight drama and unconvincing acting, such a series would never be seen - especially on ITV! The acting performances are full of gravitas and depth, and this is matched evenly by the sumptuousness of the production. The series has the feel of authenticity and style. I enjoyed the series a lot and think it's very useful in understanding the first world war, and what makes quality television.
on 21 March 2016
I saw this BBC series when it first came out. In some respects, it shows its age – the quality of the pictures is not that to which we are used in the digital age. However, this is a minor defect. What also may not appeal to modern audiences is the total lack of action scenes, with or without CGI. It consists almost entirely of talk, talk, talk…
But what talk! Beautifully spoken by the cream of British acting. And of course the story it tells is one of the most extraordinary, and one which echoes down to this very day, the story of the fall of three empires, Austria-Hungary, Russia and Germany, each with an eagle as emblem. We meet three gentlemen of distinctly autocratic tendencies, Franz Josef, Nicholas II and Wilhelm II, unable and unwilling to cope with the tides of change washing around them, determined to defy them and eventually undone by the very forces they helped unleash. The stories are necessarily simplified - it does help to know the basic story, otherwise some parts might be hard to follow - but the historical basis is there. My wife, not normally a history enthusiast, said it was the most enjoyable and painless way to learn some history.
For me, the outstanding part is Patrick Stewart as Lenin. Not only does he physically resemble Lenin, but he captures beautifully the fanaticism of a man determined to have a revolution, but on his terms, and his utter ruthlessness in achieving it. However, the other players are also outstanding – Charles Kay as Tsar Nicholas II, an indecisive autocrat who simply was not cut out for it, Gayle Hunnicut as the religiously obsessed Tsarina Alexandria, the steel in Nicky’s backbone, Curt Jürgens as the machinating Bismarck, and Barry Foster as the strutting, preening Wilhelm II.
If you want some insight into how the present world got into its current mess, this series will give you an excellent introduction.
on 26 January 2016
In 1914, on the eve of the First World War, central and eastern Europe was dominated by three ruling dynasties: the Habsburgs in Austria-Hungary, the Hohenzollerns in Germany and the Romanovs in Russia. By the time the war ended 1918 all of these dynasties would be gone. This superb BBC TV series from 1974 picks up the story of the three monarchies in 1848 and across thirteen, 50-minute episodes it weaves their stories together and records the key events in their decline and fall.
Starring the crème de la crème of British acting talent from the 1970s and quite theatrical in its presentation, this is the BBC at its best. In fact, so far removed is it from the kind of left-wing bilge churned out by the BBC nowadays that if the national broadcaster still made programmes as good as this I wouldn't resent paying my Licence Fee. Just be aware that as it was made long before the days when TV was dumbed-down it presumes a certain level of historical knowledge. While there is a very sparse narrative of sorts, unlike contemporary series of this type, there aren't endless captions and subtitles telling you who people are - you’re just expected to know.
If you enjoy history and drama then I'm sure you'll enjoy this long-forgotten gem which surely must rate as one of the finest historical dramatisations ever made by the BBC.
This is a series I am slightly too young to recall at broadcast, and I don't remember it ever being repeated. I came across it via IMDb. You know how it goes - "who was he, what did she appear in, why do I keep seeing this series turning up in lists of appearances, just what is it?"
What it is is an absolutely superb piece of drama from the mid-70's BBC. I bought it, in the end, partly because I recognise so many of the names in it, for one reason or another; partly because it's one of the periods of history I'm very keenly interested in. From the dramatic point of view, it's brilliantly done; from the historical perspective, it's as accurate as you could wish for. Not perfect, but rather more than you would expect in this day & age - just take Barry Foster, playing Kaiser Wilhelm, who constantly & consistently hides the length of his left arm (the real Kaiser did so, as his left arm was unnaturally short from birth).
Need I say more than that?
on 18 April 2014
It starts slowly, with a couple of dull episodes but soon develops into a gripping account of the events leading up to World War One and the fall of the great European empires. The acting is generally first rate, with Barry Foster particularly outstanding as the Kaiser and Patrick Stewart wonderful as Lenin. A brilliant historical series that rekindled my interest in this period of history. Why can the BBC not do something similar now, instead of the trendy, overrated rubbish that they seem to prefer these days?