1 9 7 8 (UK)
7 x 60 minute episodes
This £1½ million seven-part drama series from Thames Television told the story of the affair between Prince Edward and American divorcée Wallis Simpson that caused a constitutional crisis in 1936 and the eventual abdication of King Edward Vlll.
Based on Frances Donaldson’s account of what actually happened, Simon Raven’s scripts portrayed HM as weak and malleable and Wallis Simpson as a scheming ermine-digger and glory seeker – a depiction that distressed the real Duchess of Windsor – Mrs Simpson that was – so much that she (by then a frail 82-year-old living in Paris) succeeded in getting the drama banned in France.
Her lawyer, Madame Suzanne Blum issued a statement declaring that “The Duchess of Windsor has been portrayed as a cheap adventuress” and promised to produce letters proving that she was the reluctant partner in the love affair and that she was not Edward’s mistress before they married.
The Queen was said not to be amused at the timing of the series (Princess Margaret’s divorce was enough scandal for one year) and the Queen Mother was said to have been upset by some scenes depicting her late husband George VI (played by Andrew Ray) so shocked by his brother’s behaviour he was dumbstruck.
To counteract early criticism Thames spent £10,000 on a 1930s-style ball and special screening to which politicians, socialites and every VIP in town were invited.
They and more than 13 million viewers seemed to like both Edward Fox’s Edward (though people who knew the former King told him later he was nothing like him) and the Mrs Simpson portrayed by American redhead Cynthia Harris (freckles covered and in dark wigs).
Both Fox and Harris won critical acclaim for their accurate and stirring performances, with Edward Fox taking home the 1978 Best Actor BAFTA. The series also won the Best Drama Serial BAFTA.
Wallis Warfield Simpson
George, Duke of York
King George V
Aunt Bessie Merryman
Lady Diana Cooper
Major Alexander Hardinge
Duchess of York