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Richard the Lionheart (1961-65)

Main image of Richard the Lionheart (1961-65)
Danziger Photoplays for ITV, tx. 20/11/1961-14/10/1965, 39 x 30 min episodes, black and white
Directed byErnest Morris
Produced byEdward J. Danziger, Harry Lee Danziger
Scripts byStanley Miller, David Nicholl, Paul Tabori, Mark Grantham

Regular Cast: Dermot Walsh (Richard the Lionheart); Robin Hunter (Sir Gilbert); Trader Faulkner (Prince John/King Philip/Henry); Alan Haywood (Sir Geoffrey); Iain Gregory (Blondel); Sheila Whittingham (Lady Berengaria); Francis De Wolff (Duke Leopold)

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The exploits of the medieval British king, Richard I, in England and on the Crusades.

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For all its well-intentioned attempts to recreate a small screen chivalric epic, as well as please the early evening adventure viewer, Richard the Lionheart added up to remarkably little in the way of swashbuckling excitement.

It would seem that the attraction of such epic storytelling as the life of Richard I (nicknamed 'Coeur de Lion') and his adventures during the Third Crusade (1189-1192), the war with Sultan Saladin in the Holy Land, and his capture by Duke Leopold of Austria on his return journey to England would have inspired the producers of this series to charge it with more excitement and character.

The series had all the components necessary for a spectacle - a romantic hero, a varied and colourful milieu, one of the best adventure stories in English history - but offered neither grandeur of conception nor any depth of drama, even though everything seemed eminently in its right place. The scripts were conventional and slow, lacking in tension and acting opportunities. Dermot Walsh's King Richard was suitably bold but seemed as if he were forced to portray some Machiavellian corporate executive facing much intrigue and plotting against him.

Inspiration for the series appeared to be derived from Sir Walter Scott's highly romanticised 1825 novel The Talisman rather than the real events and people of the late 12th century. Magical moments were lost in the humdrum plotting of the intrigues with usurper Prince John (Trader Faulkner in Iago-like design), the initially reluctant marriage to Berengaria (Sheila Whittingham conveying a modest royal presence), the Crusade to the Holy Land, the episode with the Saracen physician, and the relationship between the love-struck Sir Kenneth (Anton Rodgers) and the comradely sex-in-ice Lady Edith (Jennifer Daniel). Only the presence of the faithful retainer Blondel (Iain Gregory) and the devious Leopold of Austria (Francis de Wolfe bringing a welcome touch of gloating greed to the righteous proceedings) saved the viewer from complete tedium.

Nearing the end of its days as a prolific low-budget film and episode factory, the Danzigers' company did, however, try to make its best of an already declining television genre. While the period chain mail, broadswords, lances, shields and sturdy steeds were all in evidence, the individual episode plots were mechanical and all too loquacious. Capping it all, journeyman director Ernest Morris - responsible for all 39 episodes in the series - exhibited no controlling sense of style.

Tise Vahimagi

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