October 15, 2004
More secrets of the British royal family spill out in the stately PBS miniseries ‘‘The Lost Prince.’’ They are not the gossipy fodder of tabloids, but haunting insights into what shaped the contentious clan.
The royals changed their German family name to Windsor to combat rumors during World War I that they sided with the enemy.
‘‘I feel something bad will happen if we do this,’’ King George V says.
Fearing a public backlash, the king withdrew an invitation of British sanctuary to Nicholas II, who had abdicated as czar of Russia. George had to live with the guilt after revolutionaries wiped out the Russian royals.
George and Queen Mary hid their youngest child, Prince John, because the boy had learning disabilities and epileptic seizures. The child, who was born in 1905 and is the uncle of Queen Elizabeth II, had a short life in isolation.
The child becomes the center of the two-part production that starts Sunday and concludes next week. ‘‘The Lost Prince’’ meets the ‘‘Masterpiece Theatre’’ standards for opulence in sets, costumes and period detail.
But the miniseries lacks the dramatic fire that blazes in the greatest ‘‘Masterpiece Theatre’’ offerings. The program treats the repressed characters too respectfully and builds to its emotional payoff too slowly.
The payoff is thrilling, however, because attention is finally paid to Prince John. Two poignant actors share the tragic role: Daniel Williams as the young boy, Matthew Thomas as the teenager.
Writer-director Stephen Poliakoff did extensive research on the history and studied Queen Mary’s diaries. Yet he rarely cracks the brittle veneer of a family obsessed with appearances.
‘‘The Lost Prince’’ enlists impressive actors to keep their upper lips stiff, notably Michael Gambon as King Edward VII and Bill Nighy as a royal confidant. As played by Tom Hollander, King George V is a fussy little man obsessed with stamps.
Queen Mary, in Miranda Richardson’s restrained performance, evokes the chilly mother in ‘‘Ordinary People.’’ The program contrasts Mary with the loving nanny Lalla (Gina McKee), who championed John.
The actors are all dressed up without a lot of room to wiggle, so they squirm a lot, and that doesn’t make for scintillating drama.
‘The Lost Prince’
PBS’ ‘‘Masterpiece Theatre’’ presents the two-part miniseries from 9 to 11 p.m. Sunday and Oct. 24.