1 9 9 1 (UK)
4 x 60 minute episodes
Unlikely Irish political hero Charles Stewart Parnell – dubbed “The Uncrowned King of Ireland” – was a Protestant who fought for home rule in Ireland and campaigned vigorously for the change in relations between landlord and tenant in that most troubled country.
His rise was meteoric, his fall equally so. Not for the first time, nor indeed the last, would a successful politician lose his power through a scandalous love affair, but with tragic consequences, for if he had lived, it is certain that the later course of British-Irish relations could only have been different.
The four-part BBC2 series, produced from what is now considered to be a jewel in the BBC Drama department’s crown, Pebble Mill, draws an accurate historical portrait of how Parnell dominated British parliamentary life, as well as his passionate involvement with Katharine O’Shea, the wife of one of the Irish members of parliament.
Trevor Eve rose to the challenge admirably, portraying Parnell as a fiercely dedicated and sincere campaigner, who – while completely under the spell of Mrs O’Shea – seemed unable to comprehend that Catholic Ireland, and indeed non-conformist opinion in England, could not take their liaison lightly.
Francesca Annis was perfectly cast as the seductive, yet manipulative Katharine, as was David Robb as the dashing and feckless Captain Willie O’Shea, who wished to achieve through politics the worldly wealth and influence which had so far eluded him.
Parnell and Katharine communicated in those early days of their affair in a kind of lovers’ metaphor, calling one another “wifey” and “husband”, even though the latter was still firmly married and would continue to be for the next nine years.
Hugh Leonard’s sure background knowledge coupled with his sharp and pungent way with words, made him the ideal writer for this emotive slice of British and Irish history, while director John Bruce captured the period well.
Charles Stewart Parnell
Capt. Willie O’Shea
Liam De Staic