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Fall of Eagles
Fall of Eagles
Actors: Michael Hordern, Charles Kay, Barry Foster, Gayle Hunnicutt, Laurence Naismith
Director: Stuart Burge
Genres: Drama, Television
NR     2006     10hr 50min

In the latter half of the 19th century, three ruling houses dominated Europe: the Hapsburgs of Austria-Hungary, the Romanovs of Russia and Hohenzollerns of Germany. Centuries of despotism, a continued lack of social reform...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Michael Hordern, Charles Kay, Barry Foster, Gayle Hunnicutt, Laurence Naismith
Director: Stuart Burge
Creators: A.A. Englander, Peter Evans, Sheila S. Tomlinson, John Elliot
Genres: Drama, Television
Sub-Genres: Drama, Drama
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 05/02/2006
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 10hr 50min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 4
SwapaDVD Credits: 4
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 11
Edition: Box set
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

A Fine Series With Some Excellent Moments
John D. Cofield | 05/11/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Fall of Eagles is another of those wonderful BBC serial dramas from the 1970s, with elaborate costumes, highly literate scripts, and an attention to detail which is rarely found in these less patient times. In 13 episodes, this is the story of the last sixty years or so of the great Hapsburg, Hohenzollern, and Romanov dynasties. There is a large cast which includes many faces familiar to fans of Masterpiece Theater in the 1970s and early 1980s. This series was first shown on the BBC in 1974, then on PBS in the late 1970s, and then in severely edited form on TBS and Bravo in the 1980s. The episodes tend to be heavy on dialogue and light on action, but the scripts draw heavily from speeches, conversations, letters and diary entries of the various characters, providing an abundance of rich historical detail.

Since it has been so long since the series has been seen in its entirety, here is a brief summary of each episode:

1. Death Waltz. Dealing with the early years of the marriage of Emperor Franz Josef of Austria and his beautiful young wife Elisabeth, this episode provides a good contrast between the absolutism of the Austrian court and the rise of European liberalism and the growing nationalism of ethnic groups like the Hungarians.
2. The English Princess. This chronicles the difficulties faced by Victoria, Princess Royal of England. The eldest daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Vicky had been raised by her father to be a voice for constitutional government and liberalism. After Vicky married Frederick, Crown Prince of Prussia in 1858, she clashed repeatedly with the Prussian government over its plans to force the unification of Germany as an absolute monarchy. Very good performance by Curt Jurgens as Otto von Bismarck.
3.The Honest Broker. Continuing the German story line, this episode focusses on Bismarck after his successful unification efforts, particularly on his alienation of Vicky and Fritz's son Willy from his parents. After Willy becomes Kaiser William II, he then turns the tables on Bismarck and fires him, allowing for a very nice "I told you so" scene between Vicky and Bismarck at the end.
4. Requiem for a Crown Prince. Returning to Austria, this is the story of the Mayerling tragedy, in which Crown Prince Rudolf first murdered his teenage mistress and then shot himself. This episode is filmed as a crime drama, with dates and times repeatedly flashing on the screen as we see the murder/suicide first discovered, then covered up.
5. The Last Tsar. Here we have the story of Nicholas II as a playboy tsarevich who cavorts with a ballerina while courting a shy German princess named Alix. Nicholas finally convinces Alix to accept his proposals and change her religion to Orthodoxy and her name to Alexandra. This episode contains one of my favorite lines: When one of Queen Victoria's granddaughters asks if it is a good idea for first cousins to marry each other, the old Queen regally proclaims "The same blood only adds to the strength!" (This is a verbatim quote from one of the Queen's letters, by the way.) This episode ends with the death of Tsar Alexander III, Nicholas' father.
6. Absolute Beginners. This is the least "royal" episode. It concentrates on Lenin's rise to power within the Russian Marxist movement and his creation of the Bolshevik party. Some of the discussions drag a bit, and its not really clear what divides Bolshevik from Menshevik from Social Democrat from Social Revolutionary, but this episode does give a good idea of Lenin's energy, charm, and utter ruthlessness.
7. Dearest Nicky. Kaiser William II bombards Nicholas II with endless letters of advice and appallingly ugly paintings during the first years of the Tsar's reign. We get a good picture of Nicholas' fatalism and lack of initiative, and of Empress Alexandra's resolve to maintain the absolute monarchy and block any reforms within Russia. The scenes showing Nicholas and Alexandra's misery over their son and heir's hemophilia are particularly well done.
8. The Appointment. Another Russian story, set in the period after the 1905 Revolution and the establishment of a semi-constitutional monarchy. The main character is a double agent who simultaneously deals with the revolutionaries and the Tsar and the Empress, weakening reform efforts and increasing the instability. There's a particularly fine scene showing Alexandra interviewing the double agent while an orchestra plays "I am a Courtier" from Gilbert and Sullivan.
9. Dress Rehearsal. This deals with the Balkan Crisis of 1908, which nearly started World War I six years early. The diplomatic machinations and double crosses are well portrayed. There are some nice scenes showing King Edward VII of England visiting Nicholas and Alexandra and otherwise playing a pivotal part in helping to prevent conflict.
10. Indian Summer of an Emperor. The least well done episode, focussing on Franz Josef in the summer of 1914. This mainly consists of a series of discussions before and after the Sarajevo assassinations and is meant to illustrate the diplomatic missteps which led to war, but it tends to be tedious. There are some charming scenes showing Franz Josef with his platonic lady friend Katharina von Schratt, whom he visited every morning for coffee and conversation.
11. Tell the King the Sky is Falling. The best episode, depicting Russia during World War I as the few competent leaders try to convince Nicholas to make reforms before its too late. Gregory Rasputin is well played both as lecher and as holy man. There's a particularly strong performance by Rosalie Crutchley as Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, aunt of the Tsar and the most domineering of all the Romanovs.
12. The Secret War. Here we see the February Revolution that overthrows the Tsar and the subsequent negotiations between various Russian revolutionary/Marxist groups and the German government, leading to Lenin's triumphant return to Russia and his seizure of power in the October Revolution. Kaiser William II is allowed to be uncharacteristically cautious in warning his ministers not to trust the Bolsheviks.
13. End Game. The final episode, concentrating on the fall of the German monarchy and the last months of World War I. The increasing desperation of the German High Command is well depicted. My favorite scene shows the Kaiser with his wife, talking about their now estranged/dead British and Russian relations, with the German Empress breaking into tears when talking about the Tsar and Empress, saying "Why did they shoot the children? They didn't have to shoot the children!" over and over.

This is a fine series with some excellent moments. If you're not familiar with late nineteenth century/early twentieth century royal European history some of the episodes might be confusing, but history buffs and royal aficionados will enjoy it immensely."
The Last Courts of Europe
H. L. Cripe | Wilmington, DE United States | 07/18/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"My heartfelt thanks to whoever is responsible for our finally being able to get DVDs of some of the best of British-made TV of the 1970s and 1980s -- a period of series-making featuring excellent ensemble casts, meticulous attention to detail, and above all, no dumbed-down or politically-correct history. Fall of Eagles is one of the best of these productions.

One reviewer has said, rightly, that as you watch this series you want to scream at your television to stop the inevitable progress toward World War I -- the culmination of ignorance, double-dealing, misunderstandings, fatalism, and downright stupidity on the part of the three major European empires and their rulers. The Hohenzollerns of Germany, the Habsburgs of Austria-Hungary and the Romanovs of Russia were determined to preserve their rule by "Divine right" while ignoring the social chaos, poverty, and burgeoning spirit of revolution among the many ethnic and cultural populations they controlled.

The series does a great job of showing that these rulers were rather unremarkable people coping with basic human experiences in very remarkable circumstances. They did not have exceptional intelligence or ability, some were prone to annoyingly histrionic behavior (Kaiser Wilhelm II), some were memorable, some oblivious of the world around them (Tsar Nicholas II and his Empress), some were pretty thick, and several, like Empress Elizabeth of Austria (SiSi), were outright flakes. They were surrounded by sycophants, but also by a few people of intelligence and integrity who could have steered them on less disastrous courses but who were largely ignored. And so we have the story of Prussia's territorial aggrandizement and unification of the German empire, Austria's attempts both to ignore and squelch the increasingly active Hungarian move toward autonomy, and Tsar Nicholas II's lethargic and pathetic obliviousness to the threat of the charismatic and politically savvy Lenin. Their Europe would disappear in the ashes of World War I, never to rise again.

If you love this series and want to know more about these fascinating people and times, let me recommend the book The Last Courts of Europe; A Family Album of Royalty at Home and Abroad, 1860-1914, by Robert K. Massie (available here at Amazon at a very reasonable price, a lot cheaper than I bought it years ago before there was an Amazon!). All of the people in the series are in it, both in text and a wealth of rare contemporary photographs -- you will marvel at how expertly the actors were made up to look like their real life counterparts. Most of these rulers were grandchildren of Queen Victoria of Great Britain, "Granny Queen", who had nine children and 44 grandchildren, all of whom married into the major and minor royalties of Europe. As you will have learned by watching the series, "Cousin Willy" (Kaiser Wilhelm II) and "Cousin Nicky" (Tsar Nicholas II) actually were cousins by way of their mothers, who were daughters of Queen Victoria. "Cousin Nicky" was visited aboard his royal yacht by "Uncle Bertie", King Edward VII of England.

If you are a history buff, or interested in the pre-World War I era, or you just plain like good television drama, you can't go wrong with this series. Yes, of course you may feel that some omissions should have been included, but on the whole, the series does an excellent job of exactly what it set out to do, show the intricate tapestry of Europe as it was and how it all came apart in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Again, I thank whoever is responsible for bringing it to us on DVD. Here's hoping there are more of such series to come.

An Astounding Achievement
J. C Clark | Overland Park, KS United States | 11/28/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"When painting stories from 70 of the most tumultuous years in European history, no matter how large the available canvas, the artist must be quite selective. This 13 episode treat from 1974 is nearly perfect in every way, choosing events and people emblematic of this troubled time. I cannot vouch for the historical accuracy the way a professional historian could, but these certainly fit everything I know and seem reasonable and believable. If the actual conversations are invented, the reality of these doomed people is dazzlingly re-created.

30 plus years ago, British television had tiny budgets with which to work. Austere sets, limited costumes, minimal trappings to flesh out the look, and yet they created masterpieces still fondly remembered. I, Claudius, The Pallisers, and The Forsytes, and many others, all remain in the mind long after their closing credits. This series, new to me, joins that august company. The difference between then and now (and between British and American) is superlative scripts and splendid acting. Familiar faces abound throughout these tales, as we see and hear a supporting cast that has appeared in many BBC and British films. No weak spots, no boring or inept performances, just skilled artisans who deftly and completely capture what these famous names must have been like. Patrick Stewart is probably the most recognizable actor from this set, and his Lenin is absolutely believable. But he is by no means alone in inhabiting his character.

The recent film The Illusionist takes place during the same time, and concerns a fictional Austrian Prince; the suicide of the real prince is wonderfully portrayed in the episode "Requiem for a Crown Prince". What a difference we see between a tale told about people with emotions, desires, and beliefs, who are allowed to grow, sputter, and ultimately be what they are, and a contemporary film with a beautiful look, stunning and opulent sets, marvelous clothes, swords, trains, carriages and hats, but blessed with cartoon good and evil and devoid of soul. Garish and silly, sterile and dead, no matter how much gorgeous decoration is heaped upon it.

I only wish they had filmed another 20 or 30 episodes. A gripping, riveting story, wonderfully told that, after the somewhat sluggish first episode, holds your imagination and your intellect. Historical knowledge is certainly helpful, but not required, and I bet you'll be pulling out your atlas and reading your encylopedia after."
Fall of Eagles - British production at its best
C. Ivie | Apple Valley, Ca USA | 02/24/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This superb series is an excellent example of what you get when a group of artists, writers and directors that really know what they are doing work together on an ambitious project. Wonderfully cast with elegant cinematography and strict attention to historic detail this is a splendid addition to any history buffs collection.

I recorded this off our local PBS station when it first aired and was considering copying it to DVD. Now with the upcoming release I don't have to do that

This is definitely worth five stars.

Chuck Ivie
Apple Valley, Ca.