"We dig our own graves."A 1974 BBC Drama Mini Series, dealing with the Royal families and other leading figures of the three continental European Empires of Prussia/Imperial Germany, Austria-Hungary and Tsarist Russia. Telling stories of the politics, both internal and international from the late 19th century, until the end of World War I.
—Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa, Her Imperial and Royal Majesty The German Empress & Queen of Prussia
This work provides examples of:
- Ambiguously Evil: In the series, it is never made clear whether Rasputin is simply a deluded but well-intentioned hedonist who genuinely believes he is carrying out God's will or is simply a sociopathic charlatan who cravenly exploits the royal family for his own amusement. See here.
- Break the Cutie: Empress Elisabeth ("Sissi") of Bavaria, wife to Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria-Hungary. Little more than a child at the time of their marriage, a complete newcomer to politics and life of an Empress, despised by the Emperor's mother, one of her daughters dies of disease at 2 years of age, and all of this in the very first episode ("Death Waltz"). By the time of the fourth ("Requiem for a Crown Prince"), when her only son, Crown Prince Rudolf, is found dead at Mayerling with Baroness Mary Vetsera in a Suicide Pact, the poor woman is a wreck.
Emperor Franz Josef I: "Nothing has been spared me... in this world..."
- Franz himself qualifies. First shown as a handsome young man, having to deal with constant unrest throughout the empire, the Revolutions of 1848note , the strife between Sissi and his mother, Sissi's sympathy with the Hungarian cause, and his military defeats, takes its toll over the years. Already an old man by the time of Rudolf's suicide, he is later devastated at Sissi's death.
- It would only get worse. He'd have to deal with conflicts with Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and the latter's assassination in Sarajevo, thus staging World War I.
- And let's not forget Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna ("Alix"), wife to Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. Her desolation at her (only) son's haemophilia is the beginning of her own crisis, along with every mounting tension in Russia and the looming threat of revolution. She is at her breaking point at Rasputin's death.
- The Chessmaster: Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. He is portrayed single-handedly orchestrating a series of treaties and domestic policies that ensures Germany's prosperity long after his own political downfall.
- Vladimir Lenin also qualifies given the manner in which he ruthlessly outmaneuvers rivals in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party to seize control and transform it into a disciplined band of radicals poised to take power in the chaos of the 1917 Russian Revolution.
- Alexander Helphand deserves mention as well given that he is responsible for organizing an agreement between the Bolsheviks and the German Government that guarantees the former safe passage into Russia to bring about the October Revolution.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: Its clear from the start that no one really expects much to come from Wilhelm II. Otto von Bismarck attempts to mold him into another Puppet King for the Imperial bureaucracy he's created. However, he underestimates the young man's ambition and loses all his power and influence as a result. Without Bismarck's Machiavellian yet prudent guidance, the impetuous Kaiser ultimately plays a central role in plunging the entire Western world into World War I.
- General Ripper: General Ludendorff, who pronounces the war lost after his offensive fails and dramatically fainting at a General Staff meeting... and then reverses himself a month later, risking arrest for defying the Kaiser's intention to seek peace and blaming politicians and leftists for the position they were in.Chief of Staff Erich Ludendorff: "CONSPIRATORS!"
- Historical Hero Upgrade: Vladimir Lenin (played by Patrick Stewart).
- Jerk Ass Woobie: Wilhelm II. Despite growing up to be an arrogant and self-centered warmonger, it's hard not to view him in a somewhat sympathetic light due to the cold and at times even abusive treatment he is depicted to have received from his parents as a boy. This is hammered home in "The Honest Broker" when he seeks retribution against his mother following his father's death by ransacking her residence only to be reminded he will always be haunted by a childhood largely devoid of emotional warmth.
- Know When to Fold 'Em: Prince Max of Baden and, later, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg throw their lot in with the provisional German Government headed by Friedrich Ebert in neat and orderly fashion, with the former even announcing Wilhelm II's abdication before it happens and the latter propping them up as soon as the Kaiser boards his train to Holland.Field Marshal Paul Von Hindenburg: "There are certain values, Groener, of which the Emperor and his army are the eternal protectors. We cannot save the Emperor, but we can save the army. We must save Germany. It is our sacred duty."
- Large Ham: Otto von Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Father Gapon: ""Squeeze them!", shout the money bags, "squeeze them dry, wring them out! There's a drop left in him, and him and him. Catch it before they die, it's worth ten roubles." Not one drop of human spirit will they leave you to call your own! You're theirs, you belong to them, not God! You were born to be the cattle of the rich, and as cattle they will use you to the last part - blood, bones and hides! Even the milk from your wives they'd steal, if they didn't need your new-born calves for their mills! WHO DECREED THAT THE MANY SHOULD TOIL AND LABOUR FOR THE FEW!? The land was God's, they've taken it! And all the fruits of the earth have gone to them, even the strength that God gave each man for himself, they've taken and set to work for THEIR PROFIT, NOT OURS! I SAY ENOUGH!"
- Russia has a great example in Father Georgiy Gapon, who stirs up the St. Peterburg's strikes with a fiery Rousing Speech.
Father Gapon: "BLOODY MURDEREEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRRRS!"
- Sadly, it doesn't work. After the strikes, Gapon leads the workers to the Winter Palace to make a personal petition to Tsar Nicholas II, which leads to the Bloody Sunday massacre, and this beautiful piece of ham.
- Manipulative Bastard: Otto von Bismarck and Vladimir Lenin.
- Man Child: Wilhelm II. For most of the series, his personality seems largely stuck in a state of adolescence even when he is well into his mid-50s as the leader of a world power. It is only when he witnesses the terrible consequences of plunging his country into World War I that he shows signs of becoming more mature and reflective, by which time it is ultimately too late.
- Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Frederick III of Germany ("Fritz") with Princess Victoria of England ("Vicky"), Kaiser Wilhelm II ("Willy") with Princess Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein ("Dona"), and Nicholas II of Russia ("Nicky") with Alexandra Feodorovna ("Alix"). While they marry for political reasons as customary of royalty at the time, every couple is depicted with the spouses being entirely happy with each other. Emperor Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary with Elisabeth of Bavaria ("Sissi") promised to be one, but things would soon go to hell.
- Puppet King: Wilhelm I's indecisiveness and disregard for civilian interference in royal and military affairs helps him quickly fall into Otto von Bismarck's grasp.
- Royally Screwed Up and Too Dumb to Live: The Habsburgs, aside from Franz Joseph, and the Romanovs, aside from Alexander III.
- Ship Sinking: Right into the very first episode, the introduction explains Franz Josef is set to marry the beautiful Duchess Helene of Bavaria ("Nené"), while his mother, Princess Sophie of Bavaria, explains to her he'll approach her and invite her to dance the waltz. In the next scene, Franz is dancing with her younger sister, Elisabeth (Sissi), with Helene looking dejected and Sophie furious.
- Smug Snake: Kaiser Wilhelm II serves as the most notable example. While far more strong-willed than his indecisive grandfather and gravely underestimated by Bismarck, it becomes all too apparent as the series progresses that he is hardly the "supreme warlord" and visionary statesman he fancies himself to be. Ultimately, his hubris brings about the downfall not only of the Hohenzollern dynasty but the entire German Empire as well.