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Edward and Mrs Simpson (1978)

Courtesy of FremantleMedia

Main image of Edward and Mrs Simpson (1978)
Thames Television for ITV, 8/11-20/12/1978
7 x 60 min, colour
DirectorWaris Hussein
ProducerAndrew Brown
ScriptSimon Raven

Cast: Edward Fox (Edward); Cynthia Harris (Mrs Simpson); Marius Goring (George V); Peggy Ashcroft (Queen Mary); Jeremy Child (Piers Leigh); Kika Markham (Freda Dudley Ward); Cherie Lunghi (Lady Furness); David Waller (Stanley Baldwin); Jessie Matthews (Aunt Bessie Merryman); Maurice Denham (Archbishop Of Canterbury); Nigel Hawthorne (Walter Monckton); Patrick Troughton (Clement Attlee)

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The events leading to the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936 so that he could marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

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When first transmitted, Edward and Mrs Simpson raised many eyebrows for its surprising candour and directness in chronicling the political, social and psychological factors behind the abdication of Edward VIII.

Featuring a typically waspish script by Simon Raven, the series lightly but plausibly sketches in the Prince of Wales' early amorous and sporting pursuits, while presenting the subsequent events that led to the constitutional crisis with great clarity and depth. The series also carefully juxtaposes Edward's frequent, and popular, visits to depressed areas with his opulent and carefree private life, and doesn't shy from showing his admiration for Mussolini in a pair of brief but pointed exchanges with Anthony Eden. The true nature and import of Edward's plaintive assertion "The people must take me as I am" lies at the heart of the series.

Edward Fox gives a fine and charismatic performance as the King, ably suggesting the contradictory impulses that ruled the man. Wallis Simpson, however, is presented rather less sympathetically. In an occasionally heavy-handed performance, Cynthia Harris plays her as a cool and conniving gold-digger, albeit a sometimes naïve and even disarmingly foolish one, clearly entranced by the prospect of marrying the King of England. This view is neatly and wittily summed up in Ron Grainer's excellent music score, which makes strong use of the song 'I danced with a man, who danced with a girl, who danced with the Prince of Wales'.

Resourcefully directed by Waris Hussein, the distinguished supporting cast includes Peggy Ashcroft as Queen Mary, Marius Goring as George V (who gets to utter the immortal "Bugger Bognor" from his deathbed), Nigel Hawthorne (Walter Monckton) and David Waller, excellent as Stanley Baldwin.

What emerges most strongly from the drama is the portrait of a man fundamentally trying to distance himself from the role that had been pre-determined for him. His popularity with the general public, akin to that of Princess Diana decades later, is linked to a sense of estrangement from the rigidly traditional world and codes of conduct of the British Royal family. His almost desperate affection for Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee and therefore an almost complete outsider, is thus presented as part of a general pattern towards escape and divestment. By pursuing her, the series suggests, he was also looking to free himself of the obligations that had been placed upon him.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Standing guard (3:13)
2. Evasions (1:39)
3. The King's working day (2:59)
4. Public and private (2:11)
Ashcroft, Dame Peggy (1907-1991)
Denham, Maurice (1909-2002)
Fox, Edward (1937-)
Goring, Marius (1912-1998)
Hussein, Waris (1938- )
Lambert, Verity (1935-2007)
Matthews, Jessie (1907-1981)