"There was a time when Masterpiece Theatre truly showed masterpieces rather than sordid and foul detective series or more recent novels that are perhaps a notch above Harlequin Romances. One of the better series, I recall, told the story of the life, loves and political triumphs of Benjamin Disraeli; and I have often longed to see it again, knowing full well it went the way of many old films introduced by Alistaire Cooke in the good old days. Well lo and behold! Acorn Media has made Disraeli: Portrait of a Romantic available once more in a boxed set of four one-hour video tapes. Like most BBC historical recreations, this one-although produced on a modest budget, as one can tell from the absence of crowd scenes-is extremely accurate as to décor, dress, speech patterns, body language, and all those details that so add to our enjoyment and appreciation of the subject matter. Then again we have the grand British acting tradition in which even the smaller roles are played with individuality and an avoidance of stereotyping. Ian McShane is our Disraeli and viewers of `Lovejoy " and "The Dick Francis Mysteries" just might recognize him. The historically accurate way in which the younger Disraeli overdressed himself as a defense against anti-Semitism is worth the price of the set alone, as are the looks he gets when he changes to almost Puritan black and enters Parliament as a new man. After what we just went through in our nation's capital, it is refreshing to see the story of a truly talented man who acted for the good of his country and when he thought his Party wrong, told them so! Even when he decided that marriage with a rich widow considerably older than himself was the only way to pay his debts, he spent most of the rest of his life as the happiest of married men. The estimable Mary Anne is played wrinkles and all by Mary Peach, who perfectly portrays the sort of wife that such a man needs. And after seeing the dour Queen Victoria of Judi Dench in the recent film "Mrs. Brown," it is a bit surprising to see the almost jolly Victoria of Rosemary Leach. Very human, very believable. Of course, a little boning up on what "Liberal," "Conservative," "Tory," and so on meant back then would help a little toward better understanding the intricacies of the political situation-but this is exactly what I hinted at above. What better way to teach the history of any period than to feed it up in a thumping good story. For myself, I found the social posturing of the times as much fun as the history lesson. By the way, very little of both have changed, since those who do not read their history are bound to repeat its mistakes. As you watch you cannot help but see how important it was to oppose the party in power no matter what plan they had for the country. The important thing was to act for Your Party, which usually meant fighting the Other Party tooth and nail over everything. If this sounds familiar, you see my point. Most of all, this is the story of a man taking social prejudices in the only way that works: showing them that he is better than any of them. For example, when Baron Rothchild was elected to Parliament, he refused to take the oath on anything but the Old Testament. When Disraeli wanted to shame the House for their bigotry, he appealed to them as a Christian (he had converted long before that) and reminded them that Rothchild was of the same religion as Christ. In a later sequence, he asked his bitterest opponent to be Viceroy of India because Disraeli thought him the best man for the job. This is what we used to call integrity"
Great recreation of a great man's life
F. Behrens | 06/13/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In a bravura performance, Ian McShane (of Deadwood fame currently and, I think, a very underrated actor) brings to fascinating life one of the most intriguing, multi-dimensional figures of English (or any) history. Benjamin Disraeli was a Jew, a fact that would normally have precluded him from ever rising in the British government. However, he was no ordinary man and this retelling of his story is utterly absorbing. From his start as a romantic novelist and outrageous fop, we follow his rise to the leadership of his country, admiring his skill in learning his way around English society (one of the most effective ways into English politics), charming all the right women, intriguing and outwitting the men, and developing into a genuine statesman along the way. His relationship with Queen Victoria and her consort, Albert, and then with the Queen alone after Albert's death is worth the price of admission (though maybe not the resale price) alone. Victoria, herself often misunderstood and underestimated, found a trusted advisor, brilliant political tactician, and real kindred spirit in Disraeli and this film captures it to perfection. Filled with the usual outstanding (in British productions)secondary performances, this is a series to be treasured."
A good overview of the history and personal life of a great
C. B Collins Jr. | Atlanta, GA United States | 03/07/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Ian McShane does a superb job of playing Benjamin Disraeli from the time he is a young politician, losing 5 elections in a row, to the time of his death after serving as Prime Minister of England twice. He is able to portray the handsome curly haired young dandy covered in gold chains and also the elderly stately politician with his large bald forehead. He is supported by a superb cast that includes Rosemary Leach as Queen Victoria and Mary Peach as Mary Anne Lewis Disraeli, the two women in the life of Disraeli that were most supportive of his political career and ambitions.
McShane is great as the young Disraeli, of Jewish heritage but baptized in the Anglican Church as a child. Disraeli's family was highly supportive of his ambitions and intellectual curiosity. Disraeli wrote novels and was relatively successful as a novelist before becoming a politician in his 30s, however he continue to write some also during his political career. It took 5 attempts before he was finally elected to the House of Commons as a Conservative. Yet over time he reveals himself to be a progressive conservative, steering the conservative party toward continued successes in policy. He was Prime Minister twice, much to the liking of Queen Victoria who appreciated Disraeli's philosophy, politics, and social interactions with herself. Disraeli married a wealthy widow woman 13 years his senior but their 33 year marriage was strong and supported by their mutual fascination with politics. Disraeli dealt with multiple challenges during his years of leadership including his political rivalries and allies, crisis in India and Ireland, the purchase of controlling stock in the Suez canal, and the rise of a unified Germany under the control of Otto von Bismarck. A dramatic moment occurs in the film when Baron Rothschild provides the British government a loan to purchase the Suez canal and thus keep it out of the control of the French and especially the Russians.
The DVD is four hours long and covers a good bit of English history however the majority of action is implied in the dialogues between characters. In fact, like many early BBC products, the dialogue is the primary messenger rather than action sequences. Because there is so much to cover in just 4 hours, in some ways the issues were glossed over and were not explored in any depth. This is the major drawback of the production in that it jumps from historic event to historic event to personal event to personal event without a sense of integration or without extensive context which is really necessary to understand complex historic trends and the complex personalities that swim in these political waters. Thus the DVD should be seen as an introduction to the life and career of Disraeli and that further study might be needed later to fully understand the sweep of events that is discussed in the DVD. "
Capturing The Essence Of A Public Servant Into A Leader!
Joseph J. Janos III | Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania | 05/30/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I bought this video from Amazon and enjoy watching it a number of times ever since my purchase. It shows how Disraeli struggled being accepted as a candidate, grew into a politician and became known as a wise world leader.He had to compromise his personal values, change his fashionable image and had to learn to keep his mouth shut rather than brag about accomplishments. In time, he not only became accepted, but respected by all even his enemies.The play also shows Disraeli personal life affects his views over time. Showing how what he wants often makes one a failure by not seeing what they have in life. Disraeli had a loving family and a wife who stood by him through think and thin. He owes his success to such nurturing.I particular enjoyed how he was able to make reforms and progress in his own Tory party of conservatives that advanced England as a society in the Industrial Age. Disraeli contribution to voting rights, the eight hour day, and government sponsorship for programs for the poor are remarkable. This accomplishment while supporting the monarchy was quite an achievement.I recommend this video to any politician seeking to change the world. It will show how one must change to accommodate others needs over personal desires and sightless aspirations. In the end, the world will change you based on the values you have within yourself, just like Disraeli. Then and only then will you shine above all others for a split second in time. Thus, will be your legacy that is more fleeting in life but will grow in history. Only if you have the caliber to serve the public rather than yourself!William Pitt and Benjamin Disraeli have shown the way for a nation that fosters the Rule of Law with a Monarchy. Royalty came to admire commoners whom achievements improve the lives of many in the end."
K. I. Mantanikas | Athens, Greece | 12/08/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"An excellent film (all 4 episodes) in every respect- acting,scenery,dresses,dialogues-I have watched all of it twice until now and I think it goes a long way towards placing the viewer in the centre of events. However,I had to do a lot of reading to follow the exact chronological sequence of events-even British viewers shall have to do that since it is not easy to recall the precise circumstances of the often alternating succession of British Prime Ministers of the time-Peel,Russell,Derby,Aberdeen,Palmerston,Disraeli,Gladstone...I think a relevant one-page note should be incuded in the DVD box. And lastly-concerning historical accuracy and fairness, I think the film does not do justice to Disraeli's rival, W.E.Gladstone, a very moral person and, argueably, the best 19th century British Prime Miniser (the contestant to that quality being Lord Salisbury)--I think a film on Gladstone, if ever there was made one - should restore this evident unfairness... "