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.
The series consists of thirteen episodes:
- "Death Waltz": With the Revolutions of 1848 still a recent memory, Emperor Franz Joseph's young wife, Empress Elisabeth, pursues a fascination with Hungary that may threaten the integrity of the Habsburg empire.
- "The English Princess": Princess Vicky, the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria, marries Crown Prince Fritz, the heir to the Hohenzollern dynasty. Vicky hopes to bring her liberal English ways to the militaristic Prussian court, but her plans are frustrated by the ruthless machinations of Otto von Bismarck.
- "The Honest Broker": The new Imperial Germany faces an uncertain future with Kaiser Wilhelm I dying of old age and Crown Prince Fritz stricken by throat cancer. When both go in quick succession, the throne passes to Kaiser Wilhelm II. Wanting to rule as his own man, Wilhelm II forces Bismarck to resign.
- "Requiem for a Crown Prince": When Crown Prince Rudolf and Baroness Mary Vetsera are found dead in bed together, the Habsburg court scrambles to cover up the embarrassing scandal.
- "The Last Tsar": Under Tsar Alexander III, Tsarist Russia seems stable, but revolution is lurking beneath the surface. Resenting his royal destiny, Tsarevich Nicholas is living a playboy lifestyle, but he shapes up after he's finally allowed to marry Princess Alix. When Alexander III dies, Tsarevich Nicholas becomes Tsar Nicholas II.
- "Absolute Beginners": Having fled Russia, Vladimir Lenin fights against other Russian revolutionaries, including Leon Trotsky, in his quest for ideological purity.
- "Dearest Nicky": Wilhelm II corresponds with Nicholas II, who is struggling to deal with the Russo-Japanese War, the Revolution of 1905, and his newborn son's illness.
- "The Appointment": Following the assassination of Grand Duke Sergei, Nicholas II considers appointing disfavored hardliner Pyotr Rachkovsky to head the Secret Police. Ultimately, Rachkovsky gets the job, and he uses his dirty tactics to restore law and order or order at least.
- "Dress Rehearsal": Russian ambassador Alexander Izvolsky and Austrian ambassador Alois Lexa von Aehrenthal make an informal agreement that their countries will support their respective claims in the Balkans. But when Austria annexes Bosnia before Russia is in any position to claim the Dardanelles, it becomes a one-sided deal that threatens the fragile peace in Europe.
- "Indian Summer of an Emperor": Franz Joseph fears what will become of his empire when his reformist nephew, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, assumes the throne. The issue becomes moot when Franz Ferdinand and his wife are assassinated in Sarajevo. With Germany's backing, Franz Joseph decides to take action against Serbia.
- "Tell the King the Sky is Falling": World War I begins. With the Russian war effort floundering, Nicholas II goes to the front to assume command personally. Many in the government blame the reversals on the influence of Rasputin, but Alix regards any opposition to "our friend" as treachery against the Romanovs themselves.
- "The Secret War": Nicholas II is forced to abdicate, but the new Provisional Government plans to continue Russia's involvement in the unpopular war. Desperate to eliminate the Eastern Front, Wilhelm II reluctantly agrees to ship Lenin to Russia, but Lenin worries that collaborating with the Germans will make him appear to be a traitor.
- "End Game": Facing defeat in the war and Bolshevik-inspired revolution at home, Germany agrees to accept an armistice. Forced to abdicate, Wilhelm II flees to Holland. To prevent the country from falling to communism, Hindenburg recognizes the moderate government declared by Friedrich Ebert, creating the Weimar Republic.
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.
- "Ass" in Ambassador: Aleksandr Izvolsky, the Russian Foreign Minister in Episode 5. Ambitious, smug, and far too confident for his own good, he brokers a secret deal with Alois von Aehrenthal granting support for Austria's annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in exchange for opening the Dardanelles to Russia's fleet, all while sneaking around behind England and France's collective backs. His overconfidence blows up in his face, humiliates Russia, gets him blackmailed by the Germans, and has him raked over the coals by his Prime Minister - who has to actually spell out to him the fact that his over-ambitious goal of opening the Dardanelles was completely pointless thanks to the loss of their navy in the war with Japan. Even the Tsar seems annoyed with him.
- Blackmail: Germany gets Russia to recognize Austria's annexation of Bosnia by threatening to expose the secret documents that Izvolsky drew up with Aehrenthal. Izvolsky had it coming.
- 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.
- 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.
- Dumbass Has a Point: During his grand council of 1917, Kaiser Wilhelm is told of how his Commanders and politicians plan to win. Using unrestricted naval warfare in the North Atlantic and to install a Bolshevik Government in Russia. Wilhelm points out that unrestricted navel warfare will bring the Americans on the Allied side, and that the Bolsheviks will not be able to be controlled. He meekly goes along with the plans anyway though.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: Its clear from the start that no one really expects much to come from Prince "Willie" (aka Wilhelm II). Otto von Bismarck, the mastermind behind the rise of the German Empire, dismisses him as a preening imbecile who can be easily molded into another Puppet King. However, he underestimates the young man's ambition and loses all his power and influence shortly after Wilhelm ascends to the throne. Without Bismarck's prudent guidance, Wilhelm plunges Germany and the world into one of the most destructive conflicts in history.
- 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).
- I Did What I Had to Do: Lenin, by ousting Vera Ivanovna Zasulich, Julius Martov, the General Jewish Labor Bund and the rest of the dissidents in the 2nd Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party to gain control of the forming Marxist party. He explains, after everyone call him a dictator and walk out, that he put doctrine and organization together to form the party as a fist. Lev Trotsky walks out of the party and calls him out with this line, but Lenin delivers one of his own.Trotsky: "I did what I had to do."Lenin: "But what you had to do was not what had to be done."
- 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."
- Lampshade Hanging: In Episode 9, "Dress Rehearsal", after the Bosnian Crisis and the diplomatic humiliation Russia received in it, King Edward VII of England notes that Austria, Germany and Russia are spiraling out of control, and foresees that the war is coming.King Edward VII: "What depresses me, Grey, is our pathetic belief that we all know where we're going. (...) Austria sets out to be independent to Germany and ends up being tied more firmly to her coat-tails than ever before, Russia looks for some slight prestige after her humiliation by Japan and ends up by being humiliated all over again, Germany starts off by supporting Turkey at the expense of Austria and ends up by supporting Austria at the expense of Turkey, does it make sense to you? It seems to me, the more surely we set course north-east, the more surely we end up by going south-west." (...)Foreign Secretary Edward Grey: "You take too gloomy a view, Sir. After all, if Germany and Austria are closer together now, we're much closer to Russia and France than anyone would have thought possible five years ago. That's a comfort."King Edward VII: "Is it?... Haven't you just drawn the future battle-lines of Europe?"
- 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!"
- There seems to be a lot of it in Germany, given how the German Imperial ministers and officers behave in the second episode.
- Russia has a great example in Father Georgiy Gapon, who stirs up the St. Peterburg 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.
- Manchild: 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.
- Officer and a Gentleman: Crown Prince Fritz serves exceptionally in the Franco-Prussian War, receiving the Iron Cross from his father Wilhelm I during the campaign. Nevertheless, he refuses to shell Paris (filled with unarmed civilians) despite Bismarck's urging. He is portrayed until his death as a well-mannered, agreeable Nice Guy, despite coming from traditional militaristic Prussian culture.note
- Martial Pacifist: He absolutely dislikes war, but he will not hesitate to serve his country.note
- Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Frederick III of Germany ("Fritz") with Princess Victoria of England ("Vicky") and Kaiser Wilhelm II ("Willy") with Princess Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein ("Dona"). While they marry for political reasons as customary of royalty at the time, these couples are 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.
- Aleksandr Izvolsky is another notable one. He clearly fancies himself a shrewd political operator and the mastermind of a new arrangement between Russia and Austria, and feels so confident in his success that he all but sneers at his own Prime Minister's warning against expensive adventures. Then he ends up getting stabbed in the back by his co-conspirator Aehrenthal, who gets Russian support for the annexation of Bosnia for nothing. Izvolsky spends the remainder of the episode in a blind panic, struggling to keep his own scheme from starting a war, only to be blackmailed by Germany into abandoning the Serbs, humiliating his own government, and bringing Europe one step closer towards a World War.
- Stock Footage: Often used to portray historical events. The opening of "End Game" features the usual use of October footage to depict Red October. Where no footage is available, The Ken Burns Effect is used instead.
- The Stoic: Field Marshal Paul Von Hindenburg. Amidst the general chaos of the (losing) war, the revolution at home, the Kaiser's erratic direction and Erich Ludendorff's collapse, he maintains the same straight face and calm demeanor.Field Marshal Paul Von Hindenburg: "That it should come to this... that the army of the great Frederick should come to this."
- We ARE Struggling Together: The episode "Absolute Beginners" focuses on infighting between the Russian revolutionaries, specifically the Bolshevik-Menshevik split in 1903.