This extraordinary Masterpiece Theatre featured production based on the novel by JB Priestley, and featuring one of the last performances of Sir Laurence Olivier, takes you to the last days of Britain's innocence and the g... more »lamorous, magical world of the great music halls - which once brought entertainment to millions. In 1913, young Richard Herncastle, played by Colin Firth, escapes from a stuffy, provincial English background into the glitter and excitement of the theatre world. Funny, sad, and nostalgic, Lost Empires, follows Richard from his na´ve, country upbringing to join his uncle Nick Ollanton, a famous music hall illusionist - known as the Indian Magician, Ganga Dun. The mystery of illusions, on and off the stage, is eventually shattered for Richard, whose dream of becoming a famous painter becomes sidetracked while he contends with men gone nearly insane, the lusts of countless women, and a murder that hangs over his head. As Lost Empires opens, looming on the horizon is World War I, which will destroy so much of Britain's tradition, including the great era of the Empire music hall. Soon the cinema will replace the eccentric and colorful performers whose home is the world of variety.« less
A young Colin Firth travels with a magic troupe throughout England. As historians have often noted, the world was a much different place before 1914. This series is a bird's eye view of a good part of it. The British again excel with costume drama. Highly recommend.
Watching this brought another similar production to mind several times. One of the better episodes during the '70's Hammer Horror era of Doctor Who: Doctor Who The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
Lost Empires Brings Characters, English Stage to Life!
Aging Disgruntled Snob | San Francisco, CA USA | 07/10/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Granada Television's 1986 "Lost Empires" is a series that proves that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Starring a sullen young Colin Firth, this eight-hour, three DVD set has held a place in my heart for the last 16 years. It was with much anticipation then that I opened this package and watched it anew with my family. Would it stand the test of time? Was it as great as I recalled? Based on the novel by JB Priestley, LE chronicles the adventures of young Richard Herncastle (Firth), an aspiring landscape painter, who in 1913 accepts an offer from his hard-nosed Uncle Nick (John Castle II) to join his magic act and tour the great `empire halls' on England. Uncle Nick promises "I'll show you the world lad!" In the process young Richard gets more than he bargained for in the way of life adventures. . Firth's Herncastle finds himself thrown together with magicians, dwarfs, sad-sack comedians, flirty torch-song singers, suffragettes and aging Sir Lawrence Olivier. And he also quickly becomes the lightning rod that somehow touches all their lives. The first half of LE, featuring Sir Lawrence Olivier as pathetic comedian Harry Barrard, Carmen du Sautoy as sultry Julie Blaine, John Castle's riveting Uncle Nick and Beattie Edney as love interest Nancy Ellis is where Lost Empires shines! We feel the whole world opening up for Richard as he is torn between Nancy and Julie. Every night this travelling company performs authentic song and dance numbers as we see World War I looming in the background.Of special note is John Castle. Playing master illusionist "Ganga Dun" Castle's Nick Ollanton creates a character so vivid and steely that he virtually steals the DVD.The second half of LE slows down a bit after young Richard has learned a few life lessons the hard way. The vibrant personalities of first half give way to more outrageous, less believable ones.The DVD transfer is what you'd expect from most Granada product of the 80's: film grain is a bit much, but the colors are good, and I quickly "saw beyond" the grain of film. The sound is actually quite clear and vibrant with a large dynamic range. I frequently was "riding" the volume control to back off the volume when the director cut from quiet dialog scenes to the Empire performance scenes. There is no info booklet to speak of with the three discs which was a bit of a letdown (Brideshead Revisited ships with a rather informative booklet by contrast.) ... If however you are looking for a group of clearly drawn characters desperate to hold onto a way of living, performing and loving as "The New World" is about to crush them under war and the onset of "talking movies" then LE is for you. If you've got the dough to spare, get it. If you're unsure, pick up Brideshead Revisited instead. Me, I'm happy now that my "Masterpiece Theater" DVD shelf contains the three things I've always wanted: Brideshead, Prime Suspect and now Lost Empires."
Lost Treasure is more like it.
P. Hall | usa | 03/17/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"What a pleasure to watch these dvds. The story flows and moves gracefully through each chapter. Firth is magnificent. Awards should have been given for this production. All the actors put so much into their performances. And to have Colin Firth narrating the entire story was music to my ears. We need more Colin Firth."
A "must-have" for Firth fans
Cath | Midwest USA | 01/23/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This one ranks up there with "Pride and Prejudice" for the true Firth fan! You must have it in your collection. Colin Firth is young in this one..but there are definite signs of the smoldering Darcy we all know and love. Best of all, he is in almost every scene...hours and hours of hot, hetero FIRTH! (By the way, when is somebody going to realize this guy sells movies to woman of all ages? Get him some good roles!!)"
One of Masterpiece Theater's best
Constance D'Ulisse | philadelphia, pa USA | 08/15/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I originally saw Lost Empires on public broadcasting and it became one of my favorites, right up there with I Claudius and The Duchess of Duke Street. The cast is exceptional especially John Castle as Uncle Nick (why oh why do we see so little of this wonderful, sexy actor?). The entire production is glorious, taking the viewer right back to the days of pre WWI."
Colin Firth's Big Television Break
Carl Hufton | Nottingham, Notts United Kingdom | 03/10/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Colin Firth's first memorable TV role - and doesn't he look young! This series links the beginning of the decline of the British Empire with beginning of the decline of the British Music Hall - the former with the First World war and the latter with the advent of cinema. The script is superb and Colin Firth and John Castle's performances are excellant. There is a cameo role in the first episode from Sir Laurence Olivier but it is obvious that his skill is in decline. The main story is Colin's (Richard Herncastle's) coming of age - as he certainly learns about life in the music halls before he is shipped out to the horrors of the War. He loses his love but miraculously regains it in the trenches when fate decrees that she turns up to entertain the troops, Colin gets wounded and she saves him. It is a wonderful story to get lost in on a cold winter's night and I greatly recommend it."