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'Fall of Eagles'

Laurence Jarvik

Posted on August 10, 2020 17:50

3 users

A global system designed to insure peace and prosperity collapses into riots, crime, anarchy and violent revolution -- not America in 2020, but Russia, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1917, in the 1974 BBC miniseries "Fall of Eagles."

Image via IMDB.com

Watching the BBC miniseries Fall of Eagles in these times has been an uncanny experience. No doubt the producers of this outstanding historical drama thought it was relevant to Great Britain in the 1970s when aired in 1974, during England's post-Imperial decline. 

Thirteen episodes depict the collapse of three previous empires: Austro-Hungary, Germany and Russia. Each had eagles as national symbols -- hence the title.

Each disappeared suddenly in the aftermath of World War I, which the miniseries represents as a global family melodrama amidst Great Power politics.

Three interlocking storylines center on imperial families related by mutual descent from Britain's Queen Victoria -- the Romanovs, Hohenzollerns and Habsburgs -- family ties intended to preserve a global system, which instead destroyed it.

The sets, costumes, direction and acting are superb, although the screenwriters pack almost too much history into each dramatic episode.

Patrick Stewart of Star Trek fame plays Lenin returning to Russia in a sealed German train. He arrives to overthrow socialist revolutionary Alexander Kerensky (Jim Norton) after the abdication of Czar Nicholas II, played by Charles Kay as an ineffectual leader controlled by Empress Alexandra (Gayle Hunicutt), who in turn was manipulated by Rasputin (Michael Aldridge). Due to "Cousin Willy's" (Kaiser Wilhem, played by Barry Foster) financial support, Lenin becomes the last domino left standing in Russia after the end of the Romanov dynasty.

Meanwhile, the Habsburg dynasty is collapsing in Austro-Hungary. Emperor Franz Joseph (Lawrence Naismith) is devastated when his son and heir, Crown Prince Rudolf, commits suicide in 1889 with his mistress at Mayerling. In 1898 Empress Elizabeth (Rachel Gurney) is assassinated in Geneva. The assassination of Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand (Peter Woodthorpe) in Sarajevo in 1914 essentially finishes the Habsburg line.

Finally, Kaiser Wilhelm II's increasing political and military bungling after he fires Otto von Bismarck (Curt Jurgens) as Chancellor in 1890 lead him to drag his Austrian cousins to war against his Russian cousins in World War I. This family feud eventually costs millions of lives due to fighting and a worldwide Flu epidemic. A revolt of the Kaiser's War Cabinet after the 1917 Spring Offensive fails leads to the German Revolution of 1918 and Kaiser Wilhelm's abdication and victory of socialist leader Frederich Ebert.

Most interestingly, the miniseries presents the three Imperial dynasties with sympathy. Their collapse appears to be not so much a result of their abuse of power -- rather a result of family squabbles, double-dealing, and sabotage creating power vacuums due to weak leadership.

The story of each dynasty features a strong leader who preserved peace and prosperity -- Tsar Alexander II in Russia, Kaiser Wilhelm I in Germany and Emperor Franz Joseph in Austro-Hungary -- followed by a weak leader who dooms their empire due to fecklessness -- Nicholas II, Wilhelm II and Crown Princes Franz Ferdinand and Rudolf. 

Fall of Eagles is thus a moral fable, showing the consequences of weak government as war, riots, anarchy, disease and revolution. 

Five years after this BBC broadcast, Britain's Thatcher Revolution began.

Laurence Jarvik

Posted on August 10, 2020 17:50

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