|First Shown on the BBC in 1974|
This absorbing 13-episode series captures the broad sweep of changes in three empires, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and German, from the Revolution of 1848 to the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm in November 1918. Its dramatic effectiveness, though, lies not in large scale battlefield scenes but in its character development, revealed in the dialogue, actions, and habits of the many principals. The decline and fall of these empires is revealed in nuanced detail, as viewers experience the increasing remoteness and disconnection of rulers from their people and their total inability to see, let alone embrace, change. They fossilize before our very eyes.
Episodes 10 to 13 deal specifically with World War I, each from a different perspective. "Indian Summer of An Emperor" (10) focuses on Franz Joseph, his relationship with Franz Ferdinand, and the assassinations in Sarajevo. "Tell the King the Sky Is Falling" (11) covers mobilization and the outbreak of war, with an emphasis on Russia. "The Secret War"(12) dramatizes Lenin's life in Switzerland and the machinations involved in bringing him back to Russia via private train through Germany. The last episode, "End Game" (13), looks at Germany in the last months of the war, up to Kaiser Wilhelm's abdication and arrival in Holland.
Although the series is nearly 40 years old it has held up extremely well because of the wonderful script, emphasis on character development and interaction, and amazing performances. My five favorites among the huge cast are Barry Foster as Kaiser Wilhelm, Curt Jurgens as Bismarck, Gemma Jones as Princess Vicky, Charles Kay as Tsar Nicholas, and Patrick Stewart as Lenin.