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Pallisers, The (1974)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Pallisers, The (1974)
BBC, 19/1-29/6/1974
26 x 50 min, colour
DirectorHugh David
 Ronald Wilson
ProducerMartin Lisemore
ScriptSimon Raven
From the novels byAnthony Trollope

Cast: Susan Hampshire (Lady Glencora Palliser); Philip Latham (Plantagenet Palliser); Donald Pickering (Dolly Longstaffe); Roger Livesey (Duke Of St. Bungay); Moray Watson (Barrington Erle); Roland Culver (Duke Of Omnium); Anthony Andrews (Silverbridge); Derek Jacobi (Lord Fawn); Anna Massey (Laura Standish/Kennedy); Donal McCann (Phineas Finn); Barry Justice (Burgo Fitzgerald); Anna Carteret (Lady Mabel Grex)

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Politics and romantic intrigue surround for decades the unlikely union of stolid MP Plantagenet Palliser and the vivacious heiress Lady Glencora, affecting the lives of their friends and family alike.

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The success of The Forsyte Saga (BBC, 1967) cast a long shadow over the production of literary serials at the BBC, never more so than in the case of The Pallisers (BBC, 1974), its adaptation of Anthony Trollope's series of so-called 'political' novels (the protagonist eventually becomes Prime Minister). Dubbed in some quarters 'Son of Forsyte', this Victorian drama is also made up of 26 episodes spread out across decades, focuses on generations of a single aristocratic family, employs the same script editor (Lennox Phillips), and features Susan Hampshire and Martin Jarvis in the cast.

Trollope's penchant for eccentric, highly unusual names gets a full workout in this serial, which includes such characters as Lady Mabel Grex, Sir Orlando Drought and the Marchioness of Auld Reekie and revolves around the arranged marriage between Lady Glencora (Hampshire) and the improbably monikered Plantagenet Palliser (Philip Latham). However, it's rakish characters like Burgo Fitzgerald (Barry Justice) and Ferdinand Lopez (Stuart Wilson) that really linger in the memory.

Simon Raven brings a droll sense of humour to the scripts, which are full of comic banter, admirably delivered by a huge cast including such up-and-coming performers as Derek Jacobi, Penelope Keith, Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons.

Production on the series stretched out over 13 months but, despite the appeal to the memory of Forsyte, it had nothing like its impact, although this was partly down to sheer bad luck. The series was transmitted at the height of a winter of dreadful industrial relations, marked by the three-day week and frequent power shortages, which both contributed to scheduling difficulties. The final insult came when, due to strikes at the BBC, the concluding two episodes couldn't be completed in time and were screened five months late, largely eroding audience loyalty.

The Pallisers admittedly peaks long before its conclusion, with the dramatisation of 'Phineas Redux', which served as the basis of episodes 15 to 19. In it Plantagenet and Glencora become Duke and Duchess Omnium, while the dramatic plot mixes politics, murder mystery and a memorable court-room climax. However, viewers who stayed the course were rewarded with a handsomely mounted, frequently witty production populated by a vast gallery of richly drawn comic creations, such as the political agent Mr Scruby (Gordon Gostelow), the snobbish Adolphus 'Dolly' Longstaffe (Donald Pickering) and the interfering Countess Midlothian (Fabia Drake), while Roland Culver as the calmly cynical Duke of Omnium is magnificent.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Plantagenet's passion (4:29)
2. Love affair (4:05)
3. Engagement (3:15)
Complete episode (50:27)
Andrews, Anthony (1948-)
Culver, Roland (1900-1984)
Irons, Jeremy (1948-)
Jacobi, Sir Derek (1938-)
Livesey, Roger (1906-1976)
Llewelyn, Desmond (1914-1999)
Massey, Anna (1937-2011)
Vaughan, Peter (1923-)
Whitfield, June (1925-)
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