Diane and I spent Saturday night and too much of Sunday afternoon watching “War and Peace”, the BBC adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel that has been described as the greatest novel ever written.
It’s set during the period of the Napoleonic Wars, concentrating on the years between 1805 and 1812 when France turned its attentions to Russia, arguably Napoleon’s biggest mistake.
It isn’t just about the military and endless battles. There’s the usual romantic entanglements that make a good novel, which keep you enthralled until the end.
The television series lasts eight hours. According to a website I checked, it takes 32 hours and 40 minutes for the average person to read the book. So you can save yourselves almost 25 hours by watching the series, even if you do feel guilty about “wasting” a Sunday afternoon binge watching.
Warning: once you start, you won’t want to stop!!!
(It’s even led to me starting to read the 3 volume set that has been on my bookshelf for fifty years.)
NETFLIX: THE CROWN
We also binge-watched “The Crown” over Thanksgiving when our eldest daughter, her husband and children were with us. This is the most expensive online production ever, showing on Netflix. They reportedly spent over 100 million pounds on it (approx. $125 million). As it’s the first of four seasons, they will be spending a good $500 million before it’s over. One newspaper said that Netflix is hoping to bury cable with this and other upcoming productions.
“The Crown” tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II, from her marriage to Prince Philip in 1947, up till the present time. As flashbacks go back to the Abdication in 1936, it effectively covers her life from the moment she learned she would become Queen when her uncle abdicated, until the present day. The first series ends in 1955, when Sir Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister. Coincidentally, with the recent deaths of the King of Thailand and Fidel Castro, she is now the only political figure who was around in the 1950’s.
Although many of the conversations that take place in the series are pure conjecture, the production is remarkably accurate in its portrayal of the 1940’s and 50’s and its attention to detail. The deep spiritual and historical meaning of the coronation is brilliantly conveyed to audiences that are unfamiliar with the biblical significance of the ceremony, which has its origins in the coronation of Israel’s King Solomon and his anointing by Zadok, the priest.
Politically, the series will help people to understand constitutional monarchy. 43 countries around the world are monarchies, not all of them constitutional. Queen Elizabeth II is Head of State of 16 of those countries. Each country chose to remain a constitutional monarchy at the time of independence.
All four of us recommend the series and look forward to the following three seasons.
Footnotes: In one scene Prince Philip says something negative about visiting Australia; in a later episode, he is asked to go there alone for the opening of the Olympic Games in 1956 and, again, expresses a complaint. I question the series’ interpretation of events here. Mark Steyn, a Canadian of decidedly conservative views who now lives in New Hampshire, wrote an article some years ago about a dinner he had with others at Buckingham Palace, where he was hosted by the Queen and Prince Philip. In the article he recounted a private conversation with the Prince in which they both compared and discussed the Canadian and Australian constitutions. It didn’t seem as if the Prince was not interested in the two countries. The trips were undoubtedly a challenge as they went by sea and were away from their children for months at a time. This fact is alluded to in the later episode.
Personal footnote: Our son was helping his eldest daughter, Paris, prepping her for a test on Canada the following day in her fifth grade exam. One question was “What kind of government does Canada have?” Kurt told her Canada is a constitutional monarchy. It turned out to be the wrong answer. What the teacher wanted was: “Canada has its own government.” Even teachers don’t seem to understand “constitutional monarchy,” which has a very good track record of preserving democracy.
A third series we’ve started binge-watching (well, every Sunday evening for a couple of hours) is “The Hollow Crown,” adaptations of Shakespeare’s historical plays. The series is showing in the Sunday night “Masterpiece Theater” slot on PBS. It stars some of the world’s greatest actors. Somehow, we missed the first series, which we’ve now requested through our public library system. But we’ve started the second series, which begins in 1422 with the death of Henry V and the ascension to power of his son, Henry VI. Actually, it was not that simple – the new king was only nine months old, the youngest monarch in English history. In view of his age, there had to be a regency – and that was the start of his problems. Out of this came the War of the Roses, a civil war that lasted over thirty years.
“Britain’s oldest manufacturing firm put its business up for sale. Based in East London, Whitechapel Bell Foundry was established in 1570 and cast the original Liberty Bell in Philadelphia as well as Big Ben and bells for St Paul’s Cathedral. Fewer churches mean fewer orders for large bells. But the success of “Downton Abbey” has wrought a new market: for handbells to ring for tea.” (The Economist, December 10th.)