TBT: The Last King (2003) Episode 2

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I loved The Last King (2003), also known as Charles II: The Power and The Passion, when I saw it way back when. It’s one I’ve always meant to rewatch, both because it was entertaining, but also because I know so much more about late 17th century costume now than I did back in the day. It’s got a great cast — Rufus Sewell as Charles IIRupert Graves as the Duke of Buckingham, Helen McCrory as Barbara Villiers, Shirley Henderson as Catherine of Braganza — and who doesn’t love the story of the merry monarch and all his wimmin?

Well, I signed up for BritBox, which is the BBC and ITV’s streaming channel, via Amazon. Apparently it’s where BBC is going to release all their back catalogue, so it’s already historical costume TV series central. I saw The Last King there and decided to wind it up and give it a deep dive via a multi-part semi-recap review.

The costumes were designed by Mike O’Neill (Daniel DerondaNorth and SouthElizabeth I with Helen Mirren). Sadly the series is old enough that there’s only a teeny bit of press to be found about it, and very little about the costumes. I’m guessing the budget was small, because there are some costumes that are great and others that leave a lot to be desired … and everything is filmed in close-up, which I always think is a way to avoid showing the costumes and/or the lack of extras!

 

Alright, so it’s been a while since the first episode! I’ve been busy! Shuddup! ;) On to episode two! We are firmly in the 1660s now, and everyone has MUCH better hair:

2003 Last King Charles II

Queen Catherine (of Braganza) has abandoned her Portuguese hairstyles for English.

Catherine of Braganza, queen of England, (c) Warwick Shire Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation; via Wikimedia Commons

Which is on-target. Here’s the real Catherine of Braganza, wearing a fashionable English hairstyle. Catherine of Braganza, queen of England, (c) Warwick Shire Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation; via Wikimedia Commons; image lightened to show the hair.

Charles is all hot for Frances Stewart, the future Duchess of Richmond. She’s very small and blonde:

2003 Last King Charles II

Her dress style is spot-on for the era, with the cone-shaped bodice with trim on the front seams, and full sleeves. Her hair is a little dated — more 1650s — but I can live with that.

The real Frances was a brunette, but I can see why they would want something to contrast with all the other dark-haired characters, especially given her virtue. Portrait of Frances Theresa Stuart, Duchess of Richmond and Lennox by Peter Lely, c. 1662-65, Royal Collection; image lightened to show the hair.

Barbara Palmer (Helen McCrory) is still lurking around scheming with the Duke of Buckingham (Rupert Graves). Luckily Barbara has figured out how to style her hair, and has ditched the mantua that she wore in the last episode for a new, black dress:

2003 Last King Charles II

Kissing cousins!

Barbara Palmer (née Villiers), Duchess of Cleveland by Peter Lely, c. 1666, National Portrait Gallery

What the real Barbara was looking like these days: Barbara Palmer (née Villiers), Duchess of Cleveland by Peter Lely, c. 1666, National Portrait Gallery; image lightened just cause.

The Duke of Buckingham wants to be Charles’s closest advisor, while Charles relies more on his Lord Chancellor, Edward Hyde (Emperor Palpatine). The two have one of many spars, this time literal, getting all sweaty with swords:

2003 Last King Charles II 2003 Last King Charles II

Amazeball news: after three years, THE QUEEN IS PREGNANT. Charles and Catherine are STOKED.

2003 Last King Charles II

These short curls are super cute on Shirley Henderson, even if that dress looks a little tragic.

Don’t worry, Barbara Palmer is here to scheme with her labia. Right now she’s seducing Charles’s illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, while wearing a gold-trimmed chemise.

2003 Last King Charles II

Queen of Post-Coital Hair.

Various political stuff happens, and I’m going to tell you right now, I Don’t Care. Throughout this episode there is war with the Dutch, the English get their asses kicked, Buckingham ends up in the Tower then released, Hyde gets banished, and while it was fine to watch, I don’t care enough to have remembered the details. Sorry! I’m far more interested in Charles and his lay-deeze.

However, I will point out that the men’s fashions change in this episode too. In episode one, they were wearing doublets and full petticoat breeches with lots of flippy-flappy bits. Now, they’re all wearing the prototype of the man’s suit with long jacket, long waistcoat, and more-fitted trousers. This is a real transition that happened in this era, and interestingly, the idea for the new look came from Turkish stage costumes. So what we think of as the man’s three-piece suit is based on Ottoman dress. Fascinating, huh!

Charles is having his portrait painted avec chiens:

2003 Last King Charles II

Specifically, he’s being painted about 10 years too early for this:

Charles II Presented with a Pineapple, c.1675-80, Royal Collection

Charles II Presented with a Pineapple, c.1675-80, Royal Collection. Add the pineapple to the Turkish-inspired outfit and you’ve got a globalism fiesta here!

Here’s the earlier style, with doublet and petticoat breeches. Yes, these are Swedish, but they’re the clearest view I could find:

Ernst Günter, 1650, Nationalmuseum Sweden.

Ernst Günter, 1650, Nationalmuseum Sweden.

Tröja [doublet?] av guldlamé helt täckt av guldbroderi, 1650s, Royal Armory, Sweden.

Tröja [doublet?] av guldlamé helt täckt av guldbroderi, 1650s, Royal Armory, Sweden.

And here’s another example of the new coat, waistcoat, and breeches:

Can you see how Turkish kaftan-y it is? Portrait of James II of England by Ann Killigrew, 1675, Royal Collection.

The best thing about this episode is our boys are finally wearing proper, long, full, curly FULL-BOTTOMED WIGS. YASSSSSSSS.

2003 Last King Charles II

Frown for me, Chuckie.

Barbara is going full procuress with Frances, who is virtuous and Just Wants to Get Married. Barbara is both enjoying that the king isn’t getting what he wants from her competition, and also trying to keep her competition close so she can hang on to her power, and also I think Barbara just enjoys fucking with people.

2003 Last King Charles II

“JUST SHAG HIM. I do!”

The queen has miscarried. Everyone is very very sad. She’s also sick and maybe going to die. Charles is incredibly kind, caring for her and watching over her and being incredibly sweet about it all. Note: this doesn’t last, but it’s nice while it happens.

2003 Last King Charles II

Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting continue to wear 16th-century-style clothes, now with flying-nun type headdresses. This may be historically accurate, I’m too lazy to look.

Charles’s brother, the Duke of York, wants to go to war. But he’s Charles’s heir, so Chuckie isn’t into it. Both are wearing the new suits, and the trimmings are spot on and really highlight their Ottoman origins.

2003 Last King Charles II

Charles, on the right, wears this suit A LOT this episode. That’s the Duke of York, future James II, on the left.

The queen recovers, but she’s probably never going to have children. She’s envious of Barbara’s many children with the king.

2003 Last King Charles II

Babs has some great jewelry here.

2003 Last King Charles II

Love the cartridge-pleated sleeves canted towards the back!

Charles is stressed about the whole not-having-a-son thing, and starts blaming Catherine like a jerk. Okay, to be fair, in their worldview, God doesn’t like them so they must have done something wrong.

2003 Last King Charles II

The Great Plague has come to London, so it’s 1665. Charles does occasionally go back to his flippy-flappy look with the petticoat breeches, but he’s still wearing a long coat over it.

2003 Last King Charles II

He goes out to view the effects of the plague. Because so much of this is filmed in close-up, I spend a lot of time sighing over his pretty green eyes:

2003 Last King Charles II

Barbara and the Duke of Buckingham scheme. She’s sleeping with Monmouth and is trying to get him legitimized, so that she can be in control of the next king. She’s hoping there’s proof Charles married Monmouth’s mother, Buckingham tells her where to look.

2003 Last King Charles II

The Duke of York converts to Catholicism. Charles is PISSED because, after their father’s execution, ain’t no way the English people are going to be okay with a Catholic king.

2003 Last King Charles II

James doesn’t care, however.

Frances can’t decide whether to shag the king. Barbara keeps pushing her at him.

2003 Last King Charles II

I think the front of Barbara’s dress…

Portrait of Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine, 1st Duchess of Cleveland (1640-1709)

…. is a nod to this Portrait of Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine, 1st Duchess of Cleveland (1640-1709) via Christie’s.

2003 Last King Charles II

Lovely back fit, and yay, her hair is up!

2003 Last King Charles II

Charles’s new favorite suit. For at least two years. I guess this is a different dress for Frances than the one above, which, wow! She gets two dresses!

2003 Last King Charles II

The back-tilted sleeves make such a beautiful silhouette in this era!

The queen has heard that Charles is thinking of divorcing her; he’s getting pressured by Buckingham and many others. She has a sad, and it’s actually quite touching, as she tells him if he wants to annul their marriage she won’t fight it.

2003 Last King Charles II

The best I could do on this dress.

2003 Last King Charles II

More great hair!

There are pups:

2003 Last King Charles II

Daw!

Barbara continues to scheme, trying to find proof of Charles’s marriage to Monmouth’s mother. She searches around in her shift and this lounging robe:

2003 Last King Charles II

Frances STILL hasn’t put out, and she sends both Barbara and the king notes telling them she’s eloped with the Duke of Richmond. All kinds of political stuff, including stuff about the test act and having to axe Hyde, so Charles doesn’t want to give parliament any more power over him. He summons Catherine and Monmouth to tell them that 1) he’s not divorcing Catherine, and 2) Monmouth will never be his heir. Catherine is vastly relieved, Monmouth is pissed as only a teenager can be, but Barbara is there to comfort him and tell him all is not lost.

2003 Last King Charles II

Pretty and accurate!

2003 Last King Charles II
2003 Last King Charles II

Okay, except the back lacing (which IS correct) should be hidden in an under-panel. But I’ll let it slide.

2003 Last King Charles II

Don’t haz a sad Monmouth! Babs and I are here to comfort you!

Someone arrives to say, dun dun DUN — fire has broken out in London!

 

Stay tuned for my review of episode 3, with hopefully less lag time!

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

12 Responses

  1. mmcquown

    I always thought that this was the worst period for men’s clothes ever. Pepys omce wore his petticoat breeches all day with both his legs through one leg of the breeches and never noticed until he took them off. Wasn’t Villiers the one who threatened to drop the baby out the window if she didn’t get her title? The Monmouth Rebellion didn’t go well for Monmouth. There was a ditty that went: “The noble Duke of York had 20,000 men/ he marched them halfway up the hill, and marched them down again./ O, when you’re up, you’re up, and when you’re down, you’re down, And when you’re only halfway up. you’re neither up nor down.”

    Reply
  2. India Edghill

    At least the spaniels are accurate for the period. All-too-often the English Toy Spaniel (with the pushed in face) is used for Charlie’s dogs, and they are SOOOO out of period. Not until the Pug was bred with everything (including, I sometimes think, the Royal Family) did the shorter-nosed spaniel sweep the field. For a lovely look at costumes and spaniels of the period, watch RESTORATION, a very silly movie. But the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel values in RESTORATION are terrific, and Charles II is played by Sam Neill!

    Reply
  3. Lynne Connolly

    I absolutely loved this series. I thought Sewell made a great and sexy Charles, and I loved the scene with the Cabal, where they all came in and hung their wigs on pegs! (which did happen!) I’d completely forgotten Helen McRory’s turn as Castlemaine. She’s currently starring in Peaky Blinders, and I swear she hasn’t aged a year!

    Reply
    • Roxana

      Rufus Sewell makes a great and sexy anything! But sexiness is absolutely required when casting the Merrie Monarch.

      Reply
  4. Roxana

    As near as I can tell they’ve got the history right, well maybe bot Babs bedding Monmouth, but she used to tease Charles by inviting Frances to share her bed, think sleepover not sexy times, sharing a bed was a common way of indicating you were BFFs. I’m not saying sex never happened but that wasn’t the automatic assumption.

    Reply
  5. karenbs333

    So I’m confused. Is The Last King the same as Charles II – The Power and the Passion? Because I was able to select the latter for my watch list via regular Amazon Prime. However, The Last King isn’t listed there except as a pricey DVD titled The Last King- The Power and the Passion of Charles II.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      They are the same except “The Last King” was the edited version with a lot of the sexy stuff removed that was released in the States because we Puritans apparently couldn’t handle full frontal nudity and digital penetration.

      Reply
      • karenbs333

        Thanks for the clarification! It looks like the BBC version is available on regular Amazon Prime now for those interested…

        Reply
  6. Cassia

    Looks gorgeous, but if I’m honest I have a hard time accepting anyone other than Mathew Baynton as Charles II.

    Reply

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