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The Ceremony of Innocence (ITV Drama, Freddie Jones)



In one off drama The Ceremony of Innocence, the King of England’s land is being destroyed by the Danes; can ransom money keep them away? Can peace be bought? Or must it be paid for in blood?

The TV Times of the week of broadcast had a full page feature on the costumes used in the production. Journalist Alan Kennaugh was kitted out with the costume worn by Freddie Jones in the drama. Costume designer Esther Dean was on hand to help, explaining that clothes of the time were so heavy because “there was no central heating” and although the clothes were rough Esther explained that “our plain style was relieved by lots of gold and silver brooches pinned to the garments.”

The TV Times also had a short feature about the production itself: When American writer Ronald Ribman set out to write a protest against the Vietnam war, he made things hot for a few people in Manchester. For although his play The Ceremony of Innocence was created at the height of the Vietnam conflict, he chose to set it in strife-torn 11th century England, where peace loving King Ethelred wrestled with the twin problems of his own militant nobles and the marauding Danes. A dilemma familiar to many a modern politician. Ribman’s message spans the centuries neatly. Less easy is recreating the England of 1013 on television. Very little is known about the period, and no one can agree what Ethelred looked like. Even contemporary accounts clash… Eventually the producers made their own decision and chose the best actor for the role: Freddie Jones.

Stan Sayer in The Daily Mirror of Saturday 7 September 1974 offered up a short preview: On ITV one of my favourite actors Freddie Jones, stars in an historical play called The Ceremony of Innocence (10.15). He plays the peace loving King Ethelred who ruled England in the early 11th century when the Danes were on the rampage. Freddie is no stranger to historical drama. Remember his award winning role as the idiot Claudius in Granada’s saga of The Caesars. This gives an indication of his powerful performance tomorrow night.

Geoffrey Wren reviewed the drama in The Stage of Thursday 12 September 1974: IT SEEMS curious that an American writer, Ronald Ribman, roused to righteous fury over Vietnam, should select an obscure period of English history to emphasise the tragic commonplace of man’s inhumanity to man. If a direct analogy was intended, it remained obscure and a… more profitable parallel might have been found in Lionheart’s Crusade to a Promised Land that yielded precious little honey and milk which soured in the pan… In the prologue, Ethelred (Freddie Jones) is in temporary exile in Normandy, seeking spiritual refuge from the turmoil of his Kingdom, tortured by conscience and extravagant fancies and finding inadequate support from Kent (Terrence Hardiman) and Abbot Oswald (Alan Cullen). The story proceeds by flashback to his earlier reign and to the pressures of his murderous mother, Alfreda (Mary Morris), his Norse wife Emma (Ingrid Hafner) and his psychopathic son Edmund (David Gwillim) to take up the sword but he prefers to pay tribute money to the invading King Sweyn (Bernard Horsfall) whose daughter Thulja (Nina Thomas) remains as hostage. A fictional reconstruction of dramatic even tragic proportions, often impassioned and distinguished in language but sacrificing final conviction to melodramatic devices. A fine production by June Howson, beautifully lit with liberal usage of close shots conveying the claustrophobic miasma of fear and violence with an authentic flavour of a period when lives were undoubtedly nasty, short and brutish. A fine-tuned performance from Freddie Jones as the anguished King and authoritative support from Terrence Hardiman, David Daker and David Gwillim. The smoke-grimed, sturdy sets, relieved by delicately subtle wall paintings designed by Roy Stonehouse were excellent, matched by Esther Dean’s carefully, tasteful costumes. Enjoyable but Ethelred remains enigmatic.

Classic quote: We are in a world of wolves… the people are in love with war.

Cast: Freddie Jones (Ethelred), Bernard Archard (Bishop Aelfhun), Mary Morris (Alfreda), David Daker (Sussex), Terrence Hardiman (Kent), Bernard Horsfall (Sweyn), David Gwillim (Edmund), Ingrid Hafner (Emma), Nina Thomas (Thulja), Alan Cullen (Abbot Oswald), Frank Moorey (Thorkill)

Writer: Ronald Ribman / Production Design: Roy Stonehouse / Producer: Peter Eckersley / Director: June Howson

UK / ITV – Granada / 1×75 minute episode / Broadcast Sunday 8 September 1974 at 10.15pm