Top Five 1970s British Miniseries I’d Love to Watch, But…

40

There are some British miniseries made in the 1970s that appear to have amazing costumes, that I’ve long considered watching … but every time I do, I think of the crappy video quality and the stagey production values, and I back out. I’m guessing none of us will ever review these five productions, although I could be wrong! But their costumes look great enough that they deserve a shout-out.

There’s tons of other 1970s British miniseries that might be even more obvious contenders for this list: Emma (1972), I, Claudius (1976), The Duchess of Duke Street (1976-77), Elizabeth R (1971), Lillie (1978), The Shadow of the Tower (1971), The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970), and Upstairs, Downstairs (1971-75). But we have reviews of those! And some of them I’ve even watched personally! (Okay, only two).

So, here are five 1970s (okay, one late 1960s) British miniseries that I’d love to watch … except for the crappy video quality that I know I’ll encounter! Are any of these worth slogging through? Let us know in the comments!

 

The Pallisers (1974)

A BBC production of author Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels. Published between 1864 and 1879, these focus on the fictional Palliser family, whose central figure is heir to a dukedom and involved in various parliamentary positions. It looks like there’s pining, thwarted marriages, adultery, and even a murder. The cast includes Anthony Andrews, Susan Hampshire, Jeremy Irons, Derek Jacobi, and June Whitfield. The costumes were designed by Raymond Hughes (1937–2015), who also designed The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1968-69), Wives and Daughters (1971), Countess Dracula (1971), The Far Pavilions (part one, 1984), Young Sherlock Holmes (1985), Jekyll & Hyde (1990), and The Musketeer (2001).

The Pallisers

Amazing trim, amazing hat!

That dress is lovely.

The Pallisers
The Pallisers

Great color/pattern mixing! That’s Anthony Andrews on the right.

The Pallisers

Can’t see much, but that’s some great bling, and I love the hair ribbons!

The Pallisers

REALLY interesting trim on the front left!

The Pallisers

Okay this is pretty meh, but I think it’s just the color.

The Pallisers

You can’t go wrong with well-trimmed bustle dresses!

The Pallisers

Chinoiserie-type pattern on the brocade?

The Pallisers

Interesting beaded necklace!

The Pallisers

More Anthony. I like her colors on the right.

The Pallisers

I’m in favor of this plaid!

The Pallisers

Can’t see much, but I like the blue touches.

 

Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill (1974)

Made by Thames Television, American actress Lee Remick stars as the real-life Jennie Jerome, American heiress who married British Lord Randolph Churchill and was the mother of Winston Churchill. People, I had a big thing in my 20s for the American “Buccaneers” — rich socialites who married British aristocrats. So it makes me sad to think this miniseries exists but is probably fuzzy and dry! Am I wrong? The rest of the cast includes Siân Phillips and Zoë Wanamaker. The costumes were designed by Jane Robinson, whose other credits include Brideshead Revisited (1981), A Woman of Substance (1985), Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (1986), Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story (1987), A Handful of Dust (1988), Attila (2001), and From Time to Time (2009); and Jill Silverside, none of whose few IMDB credits jump out as recognizable to me.

Jennie- Lady Randolph Churchill

Not a great pic, but it was hard to find good images of this production.

Jennie- Lady Randolph Churchill

You can NEVER go wrong with black and white!

Jennie- Lady Randolph Churchill

These look good — although I might put a bit more yardage in the skirts.

Jennie- Lady Randolph Churchill

Nice trimming lines! Great hat shape! | Copyright: xCourtesyxEverettxCollectionx TBDJELA EC001

Jennie- Lady Randolph Churchill

His mustachios are hilarious.

Jennie- Lady Randolph Churchill

Beautiful!

Jennie- Lady Randolph Churchill

Shitty video quality, but that’s a great hat.

 

The First Churchills (1969)

Focused on John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, and his wife, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough from their first meeting in 1673 through 1713. The duke was a key English general and statesman (his estate, Blenheim, is named for the battle he won), and his wife was the favorite of Queen Anne (as recently depicted in the film The Favourite). The cast is led by John Neville as the duke and Susan Hampshire as the duchess. The costumes were designed by Joan Ellacott, who designed The Forsyte Saga (1967), Vanity Fair (1967), Emma (1972), Anna Karenina (1977), Pride and Prejudice (1980), The Lady and the Highwayman (1988), and Duel of Hearts (1991).

1969 The First Churchills

I believe that’s Queen Mary II in all the ermine.

1969 The First Churchills

Love the swoopy center front line on the central lady.

1969 The First Churchills

A closer shot.

1969 The First Churchills

Not a huge fan of the yellow, but it’s fine? Susan Hampshire (right) sure has a lot of blush on!

1969 The First Churchills

The happy couple! Great hair on Hampshire.

1969 The First Churchills

A color view of that same dress.

1969 The First Churchills

She’s pretty much the 1660-70s ideal.

1969 The First Churchills

Okay, that’s a fab dress and THE FONTANGE!! <3

1969 The First Churchills

I like the satin on her gown.

1969 The First Churchills

A design for one of the costumes.

1969 The First Churchills

I believe this is the result!

 

Fall of Eagles (1974)

Given my Romanov thing, this should be right up my alley! Three intertwined stories cover the ruling houses of Austria-Hungary (the Habsburgs), Germany (the Hohenzollerns), and Russia (the Romanovs) from 1848 to 1918. All kinds of fascinating historical characters show up, and the cast includes Gemma Jones, Patrick Stewart as Lenin!!, Michael Kitchen, Miriam Margolyes, and John Rhys-Davis. The costumes were designed by three different designers: Penny Lowe, Robin Fraser-Paye, and Daphne Dare. Lowe also designed one episode of season one, and all of season two, of Poldark (1975-77); Fraser-Paye designed Coming Through (1988), The Woman He Loved (1988), as well as various episodes of Poirot (1991) and Sharpe (1994-97); and Dare designed 87 episodes of Doctor Who (1963-67), as well as the film Century (1993).

1974 Fall of Eagles

Empress Alexandra, I believe. Anyone know if that ginormous tiara is accurate?

1974 Fall of Eagles

GORGEOUS trimming. Shitty pic.

1974 Fall of Eagles

More shitty pics of that dress!

1974 Fall of Eagles

Maybe this is Vicky (daughter of Queen Victoria)? I love the ridiculous feathers.

1974 Fall of Eagles

GAH I LOVE THE JEWELRY OF THIS ERA.

1974 Fall of Eagles

Patrick Stewart! As Lenin!!

1974 Fall of Eagles

I think this is Empress Alexandra. Gorgeous blouse, with all that lace.

1974 Fall of Eagles

More Alexandra, with some of the daughters.

1974 Fall of Eagles

Nicholas II and Alexandra.

1974 Fall of Eagles

 

Edward the King aka Edward the Seventh (1975)

My fascination with those late 19th-century American heiresses led me to a related fascination with the glamorous mistresses of Britain’s King Edward VII. So I may have to break down and watch this, since there’s also tons of the fabulously dressed Queen Alexandra. It looks like this series goes from Edward’s youth through the end of his reign (older Edward is played by Timothy West). Annette Crosbie played his mother, Queen Victoria, Helen Ryan played Alexandra, and other cast members included Robert Hardy, Charles Dance, John Gielgud, and Francesca Annis as Lillie Langtry (a role she’d play again in the miniseries Lillie). The costumes were designed by Ann Hollowood (Disraeli: Portrait of a Romantic, The Muppet Christmas Carol), Sue Le Cash, and Christine Wilson.

Edward and Alexandra at his coronation?

Francesca Annis, Edward the King (1975)

Francesca Annis as Lillie Langtry.

Robert Hardy, Edward the King (1974)

Robert Hardy!

1975 Edward the Seventh

Queen Alexandra.

1975 Edward the Seventh

They really got her look spot on.

1975 Edward the Seventh

Beautiful lines, beautiful trim.

1975 Edward the Seventh

That’s Annette Crosbie as Queen Victoria on the left; maybe the middle guy is Prince Albert?

1975 Edward the Seventh

J.E.W.E.L.R.Y!!

1975 Edward the Seventh

Older Queen Victoria in her famous swan hat.

1975 Edward the Seventh

Victoria and Albert.

1975 Edward the Seventh

 

Have you seen any of these British frock flick miniseries? Do any stand the test of time?

40 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    First picture in Fall of Eagles is Empress Zizi in I believe Hungarian Court Dress. Dvd in library are very nice viewing.

    Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      That is Diane Keen as Empress Elizabeth/Elisabeth. As I recall, she was pretty good, and looked fabulous in her court gowns (and her riding gear; E. was a passionate equestrian).

      Reply
  2. Constance

    I have seen all of these except Emma, as I hate the Emma storyline. Love Pallisers, Jennie Churchill is very good to watch, also Lillie is just as good. Those are my favs of above, but also watched Fall of Eagles and Edward the King, which are more serious but also good. I, Claudius probably least fav by default. The First Churchills was fun but missing a few episodes on Youtube.
    The Pallisers includes Can He Forgive Her, Phineas Finn series, The Duke’s Children, and The Eustace Diamonds, all of which are Trollope books and watched all of it on Youtube. Lillie and Jennie can be found via Amazon, as well as Youtube. Edward the King and Fall of Eagles are on Youtube and I, Claudius on Acorn TV.
    Some are cheesier than others re:costuming and production but all worthwhile. Susan Hampshire is among my favorite actors and she stars in Pallisers and The First Churchills, most of which is also on Youtube.
    Lillie may be the most polished watch of the bunch in my opinion and is very entertaining.

    Reply
  3. Gail

    Have seen many of these- watch! The storylines really hold up. Even the early Forsythe Saga. Much better than the remake in terms of story.

    Reply
  4. Elizabeth Kerri Mahon

    I’ve seen Jennie as well as Edward the King which actually was shown on Channel 5 here in New York back in the day. I think the First Churchills was one of the first series shown on Masterpiece Theatre back in the day. And I, Claudius is brilliant. I actually read both books because I saw I, Claudius. I’ve been a huge fan of Derek Jacobi to this day because of this show. And Sian Phillips as Livia! Patrick Stewart as Sejanus!

    Reply
    • Terry Towels

      I too, read the Claudius books because of the series (and then floated into Mary Renaults books). That scene where Livia and the poisoner trade best practices while eating a meal is really primo TV. And, a fan of Jacobi ever since I saw the series.

      Reply
  5. Donna Smith

    I have watched all except Pallisers. Yes, the video quality tends to be crummy, but gosh, the quality of the acting and the literacy of the scripts are outstanding. Yes, worth it!

    Reply
    • MoHub

      It’s a shame to avoid older, superb programs just because of the video quality. I have the same issue trying to turn younger folks on to excellent productions just because they’re in black-and-white. And I wish we could train viewers to appreciate the slower pace of older dramas; they give you more time to think.

      Reply
  6. Lee Jones

    Actually, I have a DVD copy of “The Pallisers”. It’s not bad for the 1970s. And the miniseries is stupendous. I also have a DVD copy of “Jennie: The Lady Randolph Churchill”. Excellent miniseries.

    Reply
  7. Frannie Germeshausen

    I guess The Barchester Chronicles is out of the picture here because it started in 1982, but that was the first time I laid eyes (and ears) on all our secret husband, Alan Rickman.

    Reply
  8. Fran in NYC

    I saw all of these, except Fall of Eagles, when they were originally broadcast in the US. All are well worth your attention regardless of video quality! Maybe the DVDs would be better? The acting is all great! And the production values are good despite the filming limitations. The Pallisers is so great, stuffed full of fine acting and costuming. Many of our favorite actors are in there!

    I wish viewers wouldn’t let video limitations keep them from experiencing these series.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      I have the DVD box set of Elizabeth R (which I recently rewatched for the Patreon post I wrote), & it’s not a lot better than the quality of the version currently available on BritBox. Not like the DVDs are ‘remastered’ or anything :(

      Reply
  9. Lynne Connolly

    I’d put these adaptations into a Before and After Firth and Ehrle. That was when the TV companies started to outsource stuff instead of doing it all in house.
    I’ve seen them all. The Golden Age in many ways. Yes, they’re stagey, yes, the film quality is shitty (but somebody could digitise them, couldn’t they?) but they’re well acted and pretty accurate. The First Churchills is staid compared to The Favourite, and Queen Anne wasn’t nearly big enough, but I prefer it anyway.
    How about the original version of All Creatures Great And Small? It was set in the 1930s, so doesn’t that count? Casanova with Frank Finlay. Dickens of London was another good one.
    Edward and Mrs Simpson (Anthony Andrews again!). I Claudius, still so good, was a 1970s goodie. The Prince Regent was pretty good, with Peter Egan. And the costumes for that one are mouthwatering.
    They used to tour the costumes, too. They used a lot of curtain velvet because it was heavier than the dress variety, and similar for the brocades and damasks.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      It’s also simply recording on video vs. film or HD video. Compare the 2015-2019 Poldark filmed in 16:9 HD for the entire run, while the 1975-1978 Poldark was recorded in 4:3 video with occasional film shots outdoors. It’s just harder to see costume quality in the older productions bec. of how they were filmed at the time. Conversely, now we can see some fairly crappy & boring costumes in super high-def, ugh :(

      Reply
  10. Gill O

    I saw and loved First Churchills and Pallisers when they were first broadcast – so it’s been a while. The video quality can be iffy and some of the sets shaky, but the performances are almost always really worth the bother. (And if you haven’t seen “I Clavdivs” yet, you really should It’s magnificent.) I was away at University 1973-7, with very little access to a TV, so I missed most of the others, but they were very well-reviewed at the time.

    Reply
  11. Empress Rouge

    I remember watching Edward the Seventh on Netflix a few years back — I think it was in their streaming library and DVD. A young Charles Dance plays the Duke of Clarance for a few episodes.
    Fall of Eagles is/was on Youtube, but I think I only made it through episode 3. The fourth picture — “Maybe this is Vicky (daughter of Queen Victoria)? I love the ridiculous feathers” — is of a young Franz Josef and his mother Archduchess Sophie in episode about his engagement and early days of marriage to Empress Elisabeth.

    Reply
  12. Nzie

    So much stuff I haven’t seen. I am so impressed that somehow in the same era that gave us flower child saloon girl western nonsense, BBC was putting together legitimately great costume dramas just for TV. I think of these I’d love to see Fall of Eagles.

    Reply
  13. SR

    Edward The Seventh and Fall of Eagles have been available on Youtube; I would love to see the Churchills series for William/Mary and Queen Anne content. Fall of Eagles is a bit zzz. Edward the Seventh is actually good, not just the costumes but also the writing! I came away from it feeling affection for E7, Alexandra, etc…it definitely paints them in a good light while educating the viewer on what he did and didn’t accomplish.

    Reply
    • Jose

      I totally agree also I loved Anette Crosbie as Queen Victoria even if she wasn’t that sympathetic
      About Fall of Eagles fact is you can’t attach to any of the characters they always disappear soon like Sissi she was in only two eps set 30 years apart that’s to much of a change Vicky was nice but also dissapeared soon and Alexandra was initially nice but soon disintegrated into a neurotic religious fanatic

      Reply
      • Jose

        About Fall of Eagles it’s something like a dramatic documentary about the end of the Austrian-Hungarian, German and Russian empires it’s somewhat slow and difficult to follow for they don’t have a very linear chronology and focuses on different characters and problems over the episodes it does give a clearer light over events and includes characters most deceptions don’t like Empress Alexandra’s sister but it’s not entirely recommendable
        About the pictures the first was young Empress Elisabeth with a Hungarian Tiara with the second and third being her older self when Rudolph died the Third isn’t Vicky she was played by Gemma Jones (Duchess of Duke Street) brilliantly actually, but the picture is of Pama Brown as a Bitchy Archiduchess Sophie Sissi’s Mother in law and Aunt.
        And you’re right the other pictures are of Alexandra (Gayle Hunnicutt from The Golden Bowl and A Scandal in Bohemia).

        Reply
  14. Jose

    The Pallisers is Fantastic and Beautifully Done as well as Jennie Lady Randolph Churchill is marvelous no wonder Lee Remick won Awards pity not the Emmy
    Edward the Seventh is Great I love almost everything in it also I liked they had two actors for most of the Characters it makes more sense than having older people playing teenagers

    Reply
    • Jose

      Just an observation I might hate the duke in The Pallisers sometimes but don’t let it discourage you
      On Jennie you mentioned Sian Phillips I think she was in one episode and I only remember her in one scene to steal Jennie’s younger neglected husband funny thing she later play Sir Winston Churchill’s wife in another miniseries

      Reply
  15. Jose

    I wanted to recommend the 1972 War and Peace it certainly made a much bigger effort than the new version but gosh the fabrics are very questionable I remember Natasha’s ball gown being well fitted but the color and the fabric looked terrible (my opinion) anyway it had some better examples like Helene’s 18/19th century hot costumes much better than pretty anything Tuppence Middleton had to wear

    Reply
    • Sheila

      I just loved that War and Peace. I’ve see all of these, and own a few (Pallisers and I, Claudius). Yes, these early productions are stagey, but honestly, you can get lost in the performances.

      Reply
  16. Talia

    I love the First Churchills, I watch it as one of my comfort shows. James Villiers is easily my favourite portrayal of Charles II. But as to the fashion, in a later episode (c.1700) there is a conversation between the Duchess and her daughter about the fashionable length of dress sleeves. The daughter is annoyed that the sleeves of her new gown are too short by at least four inches – you can see her elbows! And nobody at Versailles is showing their elbows. To which her mother replies that even the the French king’s wife has elbows. Sure enough in the next episodes the women’s dresses have no elbows to be seen!

    Reply
  17. Ashlie

    I’ve watched Fall of Eagles and Edward VII multiple times and I think they’re great.

    I could only get so-so copies of Fall of Eagles but the quality is good enough to see some genuinely good costumes (and some meh ones in there as well). Although the woman with the huge headdress is Sisi daringly wearing Hungarian costume and the older woman with the feathers in her hair is Sisi’s horrible, manipulative mother-in-law Archduchess Sophie. The Austrian story gets the least attention of the three and the Russian story the most, which I think is a pretty good read on behalf of the filmmakers as to what the audience would find most interesting, although the entirely Russian episode nine ‘The Appointment’ in particular I think drags on a fair bit. But my opinion might be slightly biased because that episode has very little in the way of costume porn to look at. I think the quality of costumes is overall a little better once they get into the 1880s onward, which happens pretty quickly. We get to Mayerling in just episode four, a particularly good episode I think.

    Edward VII is I think better in the costume department and they nailed the principle cast in my opinion. We get a pretty accurate picture of Victoria as a selfish womanchild who was never forced to put anyone’s needs before her own, unless that person was Albert and who after his death spent forty years bitterly moping, resenting everyone else’s happiness and expecting everyone to cater exclusively to her emotional needs. (I really like ITV’s Victoria but it does bug me that she’s being depicted as a good deal more well-adjusted and compassionate than she actually was. I’m pretty much thinking of it as a pseudo-alternate history at this point.)

    Poor Bertie forced through a borderline abusive and stridently moralistic educational regime as a child, which happens to be pretty much the exact opposite of the kind of educational environment that would have actually helped him learn, with the expectation that he would have many important duties and had to be prepared for them but then after Albert dies Victoria spitefully gives him absolutely nothing to do and then endlessly berates him for being a useless layabout who does nothing but frivolous things like attend parties, gamble and have affairs.

    And poor Alexandra who gets treated like a second-class citizen by her mother-in-law when she dares to be upset that Prussia invaded Denmark and seized half their territory, when she wants to travel to India with Bertie but is told to by Victoria to stay home with the children just because Victoria says she has to and when her brother the King of Greece is danger of being murdered by an uprising Victoria doesn’t want to hear about. And of course she has to endure Bertie’s affairs and their increasing emotional distance the whole time.

    Then of course in later episodes there’s the insufferable Willy, both tragic and deeply unlikable, making everyone who interacts with him supremely uncomfortable.

    I was lucky enough to find it on DVD for free so I’ve got as a good a quality as possible, unless they decide to remaster it someday. My friend’s very elderly neighbour was moved into a retirement home in another state by his family (they brought him to where they live, they didn’t send him away) and my friend was given three big boxes of DVDs he’d had lying around, most of them still in plastic and some doubled up as well because the poor guy was pretty confused. But he was also a big fan of 60s and 70s British television and I got to snap up a nice little bundle of stuff, which my British mum was pretty happy about too!

    Reply
  18. Andrew Schroeder

    Bite the bullet Kendra! All of these have gorgeous costumes, although I’ve only watched the first few episodes of The Pallisers. Jennie, Lady Randolph Churchill was the only one that I found boring, but IIRC it’s relatively short. All the others have excellent writing and performances.

    Reply
  19. kt

    I loved the Pallisers when it came out – I was a child and remember watching it with my parents. Equally Jennie, and I Claudius but I haven’t seen them since. My mother did get a DVD of the old War & Peace and said it held up very well. I recommend the old Love in a Cold Climate series – much better than the later one and also endorse the suggestion of the Barchester Chronicles (in which Susan Hampshire appears again) – what a fabulous show.

    Reply
  20. Terry Towels

    The first three– Pallisers, Jennie, and The First Churchills have held up well (they’re highly political, and and I love how constrained women still are able to navigate thru politics successfully). (I’ve even got a hard-cover set of the Trollope series, for soothing during stress– inspired by the series).

    The last two, not so much. Duchess of Duke Street and Lillie are more interesting about Edward. Anything about the Romanovs is better than Fall of Eagles.

    All of the costumes are fascinating. One way or the other.

    Reply
  21. Constance

    I have a definite cruel streak as one of my favorite parts of The Pallisers was in the Duke’s Children, when Anthony Edwards playing Lord Silverbridge dumped Lady Mabel Grech, who as so sure that the Duke would not allow Silverbridge to marry the American girl Isabel.

    Also you can enjoy a young Jeremy Irons playing the suitor of the Duke’s daughter Mary. It really is an enthralling series encompassing the Phineas Finn storyline as well as the Eustace Diamonds and the weakest link, imo, Can You Forgive Her? I can’t because the man she was so enamored of was a complete jerk and loser lol. He even physically attacked her at one point, over his desperation for money. That was quite shocking.

    Reply
  22. Damnitz

    I loved to see The first Churchills on Youtube. I didn’t cared about some problems with the costumes because the actors were great.

    The representation of the duke of Marlborough was so much better then in “The Favourite” even if we wonder About the strange way to reflect Marlborough’s Military career.

    Reply
  23. Monabel

    I loved the “First Churchills” because 17th cent. And, also the Pallisers, despite my reaction that Susan Hampshire is always entirely 20th cent, completely unconvincing in a period role.

    Reply

Feel the love

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.