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First Churchills, The (BBC Two 1969, John Neville, Susan Hampshire)

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First Churchills BBC Two 1969 Susan Hampshire John Neville

Period drama serial The First Churchills told stories of some of the ancestors from Winston Churchill’s past, in particular John Churchill and based on his book Marlborough, His Life and Times.

The action begins in the 17th century around the time when Charles II returned to England to reclaim his throne. Even then the Churchills were heavily involved in courtly goings on. John Churchill’s sister was involved with the King’s brother James who would go on to become King himself. Churchill himself is no slouch at moving up the royal echelons by marrying Sarah Jennings, the young lady in waiting to Princess Anne. When Anne becomes Queen, Marlborough’s position is assured but political machinations force Marlborough into exile. Later towards the end of the series new king George I allows Marlborugh and Sarah home.

Donald Wilson who wrote and produced was a one head of serials at the BBC. He had produced the BBC’s hugely popular series The Forsyte Saga (along with director David Giles) which had made a star of Susan Hampshire (who co-stars here as Sarah). It’s a well realised affair, with lavish costume and production design, shot in colour, albeit on videotape and not film.

On a trivia note The First Churchills was the premiere series in the long running PBS strand Masterpiece Theatre.

production details
UK / BBC Two / 12×45 minute episodes / Broadcast 27 September – 13 December 1969

Writer and Producer: Donald Wilson / Production Design: Spencer Chapman / Music: Marcus Dods / Director: David Giles

cast
John Neville as John Churchill (later Earl of Malborough)
Susan Hampshire as Sarah Jennings (later Lady Marlborough)
James Villiers as Charles II
John Standing as Sidney Godolphin
John Westbrook as James, Duke of York (later James II)
James Kerry as Duke of Monmouth
John Ringham as Lord Rochester
Barry Wade as Chiffinch
Lisa Daniely as Princess Mary (later Queen Mary)
Alan Rowe as Prince of Orange (later William III)
Kay Patrick as Henrietta Wentworth
Sheila Gish as Duchess Mary
Margaret Tyzack as Princess Anne

THE EPISODES
1. THE CHASTE NYMPH (27 Sep 1969)
2. BRIDALS (4 Oct 1969)
3. PLOT COUNTER-PLOT (11 Oct 1969)
4. THE LION AND THE UNICORN (18 Oct 1969)
5. REBELLION (25 Oct 1969)
6. THE PROTESTANT WIND (1 Nov 1969)
7. TRIAL OF STRENGTH (8 Nov 1969)
8. THE QUEEN COMMANDS (15 Nov 1969)
9. RECONCILIATION (22 Nov 1969)
10. A FAMOUS VICTORY (29 Nov 1969)
11. BREAKING THE CIRCLE (6 Dec 1969)
12. NOT WITHOUT HONOUR (13 Dec 1969)