Monday, August 20, 2012

Review: Garrow's Law Series 3 (2012 DVD)

Like the actor Andrew Buchan, who played William Garrow, I had never heard of this ground-breaking English barrister until Acorn Media asked me to review Series 3 of the "Garrow's Law" DVD that was just released by them.

Buchan and his fellow cast members, Alun Armstrong who plays Garrow's mentor, Thomas Southouse, and Lyndsey Marshal, who plays Garrow's love interest, Sarah Dore Hill, did such a marvelous job of bringing these vibrant people to life that I added the first two Series to my Netflix queue since I had never viewed them either and dove into my research to learn more about this period of history in which the legal system we share with the English evolved so radically from prosecutions lasting an average of only 8 minutes that were little better than courtroom brawls.

Andrew Buchan (center) as 18th century barrister
William Garrow
In an interview with the BBC, Buchan pointed out that most of Garrow's early cases were conducted in a mob-like atmosphere.

"The juries were loud and bawdy and would throw insults at witnesses as they passed. When Garrow comes into that arena he provokes one of two reactions – either absolute shock at what he is saying, as no-one has previously been questioned in that manner, or a real reaction to the fact he said a lot of unthinkable things." - Andrew Buchan, BBC Interview 

In fact, as I watched the DVD, I was surprised by the aggresiveness of the opposing lawyers and the lack of interference by the judge.  Apparently, the formal procedure of objecting and abstaining was not yet implemented then.  However, I found in my research, this raucous environment was accurately captured by the screenplay.

"A contemporary, Thomas Hague, described him [William Garrow] as pert, vulgar and garrulous, saying that the 'brutal insolence' and 'wanton scurrility' he employed in cross-examining witnesses 'wounded private feelings, insulted the dignity of the court and violated public decorum; more important, it tended to upset the ends of justice.' Such sentiments are, no doubt, exaggerated since Hague was bitterly hostile to Garrow and prone to hyperbole.  Nonetheless, Garrow could, on occasion, be too aggressive and too insensitive." - John Hostettler and Richard Braby, Sir William Garrow: his Life, Times and Fight for Justice.

I also found the cases tried in these four episodes provided interesting insight into the social fabric of life in 18th century England.

King George III (in coronation robes)
King George III (in coronation robes) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The first case involved James Hadfield who feigned an attempt on the life of King George III  so Hadfield could be shot to death by his majesty's guards.  Hadfield, who believed that the second coming of Jesus Christ could be accelerated if he himself were killed by the British Government, fired a pistol in the direction of the King's royal box at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.  When Hadfield wasn't shot by the King's guards but captured and held for trial, he was assigned to Garrow who presented a defense based on a new interpretation of legal insanity.

Historically, this case was actually defended by Thomas Erskine, a contemporary of William Garrow.  At the time of the prosecution, British law defined legal insanity as  "lost to all sense … incapable of forming a judgement upon the consequences of the act which he is about to do".  But Hadfield's preparation for the assassination attempt seemed to discount this defense.  However, Erskine presented two surgeons and a physician that all testified Hadfield's delusions were the result of saber-inflicted head injuries he suffered at the Battle of Tourcoing in 1794 and asked the jury to redefine legal insanity as  suffering from delusions "unaccompanied by frenzy or raving madness [as] the true character of insanity".  This new definition, of course, was politically sensitive at the time as the case was tried during the reign of so-called "Mad" King George III.  The film appropriately touched on this briefly.

In this episode, I was also surprised when Garrow visited an institution for the insane and actually found the facility headed apparently by a physician knowledgeable about psychological imbalances.  I expected such a facility during this time to be little more than a cesspit.   However, during this period, the infamous Bethlem Mental Hospital, that had gained notoriety for the brutal treatment of its inmates, had been moved to new buildings and medical minds of the day had even discerned that some cases were treatable.  With this new medical interpretation, curable and incurable wards opened in 1725-1734.  However, people still went to Bedlam to view the "freaks" for a penny with records indicating 96,000 such visits in 1814, well after Hadfield was permanently incarcerated at Bethlem after being found criminally not guilty - technically a legal victory but with a very bad outcome for the defendant in the long run.

In episode 2, Garrow is charged with defending two Spitalfields silk weavers who took part in a violent demonstration against wealthy silk manufacturers where silk looms were destroyed.  Of course this case is based on activities that occurred during the Spitalfields Riots in 1769 but supposedly took place years after that.  In fact, during Garrow's passionate cross examination of a master weaver, Garrow accuses him of being paid for testimony in the original prosecution of the two men who were actually tried and executed for activities during the Spitalfields Riots.    Garrow quotes one of the real earlier defendant's recorded final statement of innocence delivered from the scaffold.

" I John Doyle do hereby declare, as my last dying words in the presence of my Almighty God, that I am as innocent of the fact I am now to die for as the child unborn. Let my blood lie to that wicked man who has purchased it with gold, and them notorious wretches who swore it falsely away." John Doyle before execution for activities during The Spitalfields Riots by David Wilkie, The LawMentor.

This shed quite a bit of light onto strategies used by the wealthy to perpetrate prosecutions for their own political and financial gain and clearly showed the Draconian nature of English law at the time as property destruction was considered a capital offense.

This case also revealed the impact of industrialization as early as the Georgian Age when most of us think of the industrial revolution associated with the Victorian era.  One of the silk weavers points out that since the introduction of machines his salary had dropped from 2 guineas (42 shillings) to only 3 shillings a week.

There was also an over supply of weavers as Irish weavers fled to England when the Irish linen industry declined.  History tells us the situation was further exacerbated by a depression in the silk market caused by the importation of French silk and printed calicos during this period.

Garrow, in an effort to save his remaining defandant after one of the defendants turned King's evidence, sought to sway the jury by appealing to their sense of justice rather than return a verdict based on the dictates of the prevailing law.

In a fit of brilliance and either self-confidence or foolhardiness, Garrow embarked upon a last ditch, do or die attempt to sway the jury by pulling at their heart strings to persuade them to return a 'perverse' verdict (yes it is surprising what we can learn from dramatisations), by finding the defendant not guilty against all the evidence. It worked, and the foreman of the jury, despite what some might have seen as an attempt by Judge Buller to bully the jury by allowing them hardly any time to deliberate and by saying there was nothing to consider - meaning that the defendant was guilty, uttered the words 'not guilty'.  -  David Wilkie, The LawMentor.

In addition to insight into the Spitalfields Riots and the silk trade, I found this case particularly interesting because I had very much enjoyed another miniseries about the cloth weaving industry in England, "North and South" starring one of my favorite British actors, Richard Armitage, although it was about the operation of cotton mills in the Victorian era rather than silk mills in the Georgian era.

In Episode 3, we get a chance to see Garrow prosecute the notorious first British governor of Trinidad, Thomas Picton, who, with a viewpoint of "let them hate so long as they fear", sanctioned torture and murder to eliminate those he viewed as a threat to his provincial government.  This case was actually prosecuted by the real William Garrow in February, 1806.

Lt. General Sir Thomas Picton

Garrow is aided in his efforts by William Fullarton who was appointed to a commission sent to Trinidad to govern after it was decided to retain it as a British possession.

"A fellow colonial administrator, Colonel William Fullarton, initiated the proceedings against Picton. In summer 1802, the administration of Henry Addington had removed Picton as governor of Trinidad and replaced him with a three-man commission headed by Fullarton, with Picton retained as second commissioner and Commodore Samuel Hood appointed as third commissioner. Fullarton and Picton soon clashed bitterly over matters of colonial administration, policy, and personal style. Picton was a strong proponent of developing Trinidad's plantation economy; his own speculations in land and slaves amounted to a small fortune.31 In this he was out of step with British government plans for Trinidad. Lord Hobart, secretary for war and the colonies, who was connected to Fullarton through former service in India, turned to the colonel as an agent of reform. Fullarton's concept of imperial responsibility had been forged at an earlier moment of imperial crisis; he had served as a military commander during the Second Mysore War, as an opponent of Warren Hastings and a friend of Edmund Burke.  Whereas Picton was a Welshman who had begun his military career at age thirteen, Fullarton was a product of the Scottish Enlightenment. Following his studies at Edinburgh University, he served as secretary to the British embassy in Paris; at age twenty-six, he entered Parliament; and as a fellow of the Royal Societies of London and Edinburgh, he authored works on agricultural improvement in Scotland and military reform in India.  The conflict between Picton and Fullarton, and among their supporters, produced a minor pamphlet war, along with a series of libel cases. Although Privy Council's hearings were held in camera, Fullarton ensured that documents presented at Whitehall found their way into print.  The chaos of the Caribbean, and rivalries born there, spread to the imperial core." - James Epstein, Politics of Colonial Sensation: The Trial of Thomas Picton and the Cause of Louisa Calderon, The American Historical Review 
Before the trial, both Picton's supporters and Fullarton's adherents waged a pamphlet war trying to influence potential jurors and officers of the court.  Fullarton's supporters even sold engravings of a personable 14-year-old mulatto girl being trussed up and tortured in a state of semi-undress that were enthusiastically purchased by the British public.  Fullarton was literally breathing down Garrow's neck to convict Picton but the King's court justice, Lord Ellenborough and other aristocrats in the room had large investments in the West Indies that could be jeopardized by a guilty verdict even though the torture charge was deemed only a misdemeanor.  (Punishments during this period seemed wildly disconnected to the seriousness of the crime.  People were being executed for stealing a hankerchief while those accused of atrocities while serving in the government are only charged with misdemeanors.)

"Three background points need to be made. First, the West Indies were of crucial financial and military importance to Britain and France.16 The scale of economic commitment was staggering.17 The West Indies dominated British long-distance trade; an eighth of all British seamen were involved in this trade.18 It followed that the Caribbean was an endemic and deadly zone of war and plunder.19 Second, not only were the West Indies the biggest depository of British and French investment overseas, they were also the most vulnerable. A small number of whites—the Privy Council in 1789 reported 50,000 in all the British islands—lived alongside more than 10,000 free men and women of color and nearly a half-million slaves.20 This vulnerability was exacerbated by war and revolution; the French Revolution's universalist message of liberté combined with indigenous forces of resistance among slaves, free people of color, and creole Europeans as rebellion swept the Caribbean.21 Third, Trinidad was something of a special case. The island's plantation economy and the large-scale importation of African slaves were very recent, connected predominantly with newly arrived sugar planters who moved from neighboring French islands following the cédula of 1783, which reversed Spain's policy of exclusion and opened the island to foreign settlement. Previously a Spanish backwater, Trinidad overnight became an open frontier. Between 1784 and 1797, the slave population rose from just under 2,500 to just over 10,000. There was also a relatively large population of free persons of color (4,476), who outnumbered whites." -  James Epstein, Politics of Colonial Sensation: The Trial of Thomas Picton and the Cause of Louisa Calderon 

The prosecution centered around a young mulatto woman named Louisa Calderon.  In the film, she is portrayed as an alluring adult.  In reality, Louisa was only 14 at the time she was tortured.  By the time the case came to trial, Calderon was 16.

Louisa, now aged around sixteen, was the star witness. In a typical newspaper report, the Sun found that "Her appearance was extremely interesting, and her countenance, which was that of a Mulatto, extremely pre-possessing and agreeable." Other reports added that she was "dressed in white, with a turban tied on in the costume of the country.  -  James Epstein, Politics of Colonial Sensation: The Trial of Thomas Picton and the Cause of Louisa Calderon 
The type of torture she endured was called "piqueting".  It was a type of military torture where the accused is suspended then forced to stand on a wooden spike. The historical Calderon endured one session of 53-54 minutes and another session of 24 minutes.

The "piquet" torture of Louisa Calderon

"Asked to give an account of her torture, 'she accompanied her explanation by placing herself in the attitude she so described,' demonstrating how she was bound by the wrist to the pulley ('the left-hand, raising her'), with her right hand tied to her left ankle and her right foot lowered onto the spike. Garrow next showed her 'a drawing in water colours ... representing in striking manner her situation with the executioner and his attendants during the application of the torture.' She confirmed that it was an accurate representation... Suffering from excruciating pain in her side and wrist and from a badly swollen foot, she was placed in irons (the 'grillos') in a crouching position between sessions."  -  James Epstein, Politics of Colonial Sensation: The Trial of Thomas Picton and the Cause of Louisa Calderon 
The TV producers must have decided this type of torture was not graphic enough so they showed her suspended and forced to stand on the tip of a spear point.

Garrow cites a shocking list of other atrocities recorded as commonplace on Trinidad under Picton's administration.

"Among other crimes that remained under investigation, Picton was accused of having burned alive, decapitated, and brutally executed slaves suspected of practicing the black arts, necromancy, and casting spells, results of the so-called "poisoning" commission appointed by Picton around the same time that Calderon was arrested. Most serious, at least for the privy councillors, was the charge that he had hanged without court-martial a young artillery soldier, Hugh Gallagher, accused of having raped and robbed a free woman of color."  -  James Epstein, Politics of Colonial Sensation: The Trial of Thomas Picton and the Cause of Louisa Calderon 
But the real legal point was whether the colony, which was still the subject of peace negotiations at the time (later included in the provisions of the Peace of Amiens), was operating under Spanish law which Picton maintained permitted torture or under British law which did not.

"At issue was the Spanish law as it was to be administered in Trinidad; a British court was required to interpret Spanish legal practice. Dallas described the island as a site of social chaos, explaining that it had become a receptacle for every description of undesirable and dangerous refugee from other islands. Picton was 'no civilian'; a rough man of war, he had been entrusted with maintaining order amid colonial chaos. As for the form of torture itself, Dallas sought to counter the image of inhumane practice, and Garrow's 'theatrical exhibition' of this practice. The mode of punishment inflicted on Calderon was exactly as described in 'any Dictionary of Arts and Sciences' under the term 'piquet.' Dallas noted, 'in this land of liberty which is proverbial for the humanity of its laws, the punishment of the piquet prevails; upon whom is it inflicted? upon those brave men who shed their best blood, and risk their lives in the service and for the defence of their country.' Moreover, Spain was notorious for its repertory of torture; set beside forms of Spanish cruelty, the piquet was a 'slight' punishment. The challenge was to settle the precise terms of Spanish law pertaining to judicial torture in the West Indies. It proved difficult to shake the prosecution's evidence that until Picton's arrival, no judicial torture had been practiced in Trinidad. A key witness for the defense was Archibald Gloster, Trinidad's attorney general. He was reduced to a figure of ridicule as it became clear, under Garrow's cross-examination, that he knew little about Spanish law; he even conceded his inability to read Spanish without the aid of a dictionary. The coup de grace was administered by Pedro de Vargas, who was called in rebuttal. A lawyer born in South America who had lived throughout the Spanish West Indies, he testified that he knew of no law that sanctioned torture." - James Epstein, Politics of Colonial Sensation: The Trial of Thomas Picton and the Cause of Louisa Calderon 
In his fiery summation, Garrow thundered  "he was an Englishman and governor of a British settlement" who should have asked himself what law, English or Spanish, "could justify him in making this unhappy creature his victim." It remained for the jury to do their duty as Britons to "protect those, who by the prowess of the British arms have become your fellow-subjects; and you will show the poorest individual in the territories of England has the opportunity of bringing his oppressor, however high his rank, to answer for his misconduct before a court of justice."

A jury, now sympathetic to the victim, returned a verdict of guilty but Picton's defense attorney immediately filed an appeal.  The case bounced back and forth in the courts until as late as 1812 but Picton was never sentenced.  Instead he was assigned to the military staff of the Duke of Wellington and was subsequently killed in action at the Battle of Waterloo.

"Picton is generally remembered not as a colonial governor but for his role in the Peninsular Campaign and as the highest-ranking officer killed at the Battle of Waterloo; his portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, and his heroic death is commemorated by a statue erected in St. Paul's Cathedral." - James Epstein, Politics of Colonial Sensation: The Trial of Thomas Picton and the Cause of Louisa Calderon 

Picton's victim, Louisa Calderon, died in Trinidad, peniless, despite her brief fame in London.

The last of Garrow's cases on the Series 3 DVD involved defending a supporter of opposition leader Charles James Fox who was falsely accused of murder at a polling day riot. Approached by the victim's daughter, Garrow agrees to find and prosecute the real murderer putting himself in grave danger from the man's colleagues and a corrupt chief magistrate of the constabulary.

The actual case was tried on the 1st of June 1784.  There were four defendants and Garrow served with Thomas Erskine as well as a Mr. Fielding and Mr. Pigott as counsel for the defense.

This episode alludes to a relationship between famous radical Whig party leader Charles James Fox and William Garrow. Although they surely knew each other, the series timeline is a bit out of step with the historical timeline as this episode follows the prosecution of Picton that occurred in 1806 and by then Fox was a corpulent old man suffering from "hardening of the liver" (probably cirrhosis) after a life of excessive drinking and gambling.  Instead, Fox, portrayed by 32 year-old Blake Ritson, appears in his prime.  
Charles James Fox by Karl Anton Hickel

As leader of the Whigs, Fox was a  staunch opponent of George III, whom he regarded as an aspiring tyrant.  Fox also supported the American Patriots, even purposefully dressing in the navy blue and buff colours of George Washington's army.  He was an ardent anti-slavery campaigner, a supporter of the French Revolution, and a leading parliamentary advocate of religious tolerance and individual liberty.  This would have appealed to Garrow.  Garrow thought slavery was so repugnant that he once told a group of West Indies plantation owners who sought to commission him to handle their business affairs, " "if your committee would give me their whole incomes, and all their estates, I would not be seen as the advocate of practices which I abhor, and a system which I detest".

Garrow would go on to become a Whig member of parliament as his legal career evolved, but not until 1805, just a year before Fox's death.

This episode reveals the rough and tumble nature of British politics in the 18th century.  Voters were regularly intimidated and bribery and corruption were rampant.  In the film we see grim-faced constables wielding cudgels facing off against Fox supporters who have gathered outside the official polling place.  Although the film doesn't show the Fox supporters wielding any weapons, historically, there was a group of them deemed butchers  wielding meat cleavers and marrow bones.  However, according to the trial transcript, none of the "meat cleavers and marrow bones" were present when the victim was struck.  Instead the defense presented witnesses that recounted repeatedly that constables armed with "staves" were the only armed men at the scene of the murder.

Upon reading the trial transcript in the online archive of Old Bailey cases, I found the way the defense attorneys discredited the prosecution's witnesses to be rather humorous especially the testimony of one Josephus Roffey:

[Defense] Do you know Joseph [one of the key witnesses for the prosecution]? - [Roffey] Yes.

[Defense] What are you? - [Roffey] I am a shoe-maker by trade, and a patrol; I know him exceedingly well.

[Defense] What sort of a man is he as to his character? - [Roffey] He has an exceeding bad character.

[Defense] Would you believe him on his oath? - [Roffey] Not for a farthing.

[The chief prosecutor] Mr. Morgan : I can let you into a secret, he has just as good an opinion of you. -

[Roffey] That may be so, but I have a better opinion of myself than he has of himself.

All of these cases are presented over a background story of Garrow's love affair with Sarah Dore who had previously borne a son, William Arthur Dore Hill, to Arthur Hill, Viscount Fairford in 1778.  In retaliation, Sir Arthur Hill withheld the child from her when she left Hill and moved in with Garrow, claiming his legal right of paternity.  I must admit I was surprised by this as a law existing as late as the 18th century.  It must have been a carryover from Roman law, on which much of English law is based.  In ancient Rome, when a man and wife divorced, the custody of any children was always the right of the male as pater familias (the official head of household) of the family.  But I didn't realize the law still lingered so late in history.

I also discovered Garrow could have been charged by Hill for damages to his wife, who would have been considered Hill's property under 18th century law.  Such a high profile case actually happened during this time.  Sir Richard Worsley sought to recover £20,000 in damages (Equivalent to about $50 million today) from his wife's lover, Captain George Bisset.

"Captain Bisset defended the charges brought against him by claiming that Lady Worsley was simply not worth £20,000. In fact, he said, she was worth nothing! He alleged that Sir Richard had actively promoted Lady Worsley’s liaisons – not only with Captain Bisset but also with more than twenty other men during the couple’s six years of marriage." - Julian Hawkhead, Scandal and Divorce in the 18th Century 

It was not until the  Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 were women finally recognized as individuals with rights separate from those of their husbands.

Garrow changes hats from barrister to politician to bring about a successful resolution to the problem.

Many years ago when I was just finishing high school I took a battery of tests to help determine my aptitude for different career paths.  I scored the highest, 99 of 100, in business administration.  I scored the next highest, 98 of 100, for my aptitude to become an attorney. Perhaps if I had read inspiring stories about William Garrow and his 18th century fight for justice, I may have made a different career choice!

Note: The DVD set is now available directly from Acorn Media or from the usual internet sources like Amazon.  Acorn Media specializes in historical dramas and documentaries. They also offer an online streaming service as well "with a special focus on the best of British television and mind, body, spirit programming."  They presently charge only $29.95 for a full year of streamed, commercial free programming with over 100 hours of programming available at any given time.  Membership also includes free standard shipping on any DVDs ordered from their extensive library and specials offers throughout the year.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Review: The Kent Chronicles (DVD)

Note: This review contains spoilers.

Having read only John Jakes "The Seekers", the last in the trilogy, known as  "The Kent Chronicles" about the founding of America, I was curious to explore its two predecessors, "The Bastard" and "The Rebels".   So, I gladly agreed to review "The Kent Chronicles" DVD based on the bestselling series when Acorn Media recently offered to send me a review copy.

Jakes wrote the series, set during the period of the American Revolution, to coincide with the nation's celebration of the bicentennial (no doubt at the urging of a marketing savvy publisher) and they proved to be bestsellers, now with over 55,000,000 in print.  But, although I vividly remember watching the tall ships sail into New York harbor on July 4, 1976, I somehow didn't get around to reading any of Jakes books until well after that date when I managed to find "The Seekers" audiobook for sale at a local flea market.
"The Seekers", however, was actually the last book in the trilogy although it read more like it was the first of a new trilogy and even ended with both main characters left dangling without resolution.  Apparently, the publisher wished Jakes to move on so he pulled the plug on the Kents at that point and moved on to the American Civil War, penning "North and South".

I may have seen "The Kent Chronicles" when it aired in 1978-79 as I was quite a fan of historical miniseries but I honestly don't remember it, although I vividly remember "North and South" that aired in 2004.  Whether this is a statement on the quality of the production or insight into the brutal schedule of a young farm family trying to scratch a living out of the high desert of eastern Oregon (which I was doing at the time), I'm not sure.  So when I watched the review DVDs, the story was relatively new to me.

Casting wise, Hollywood certainly gave "The Kent Chronicles" every opportunity to be memorable.  They must have netted almost every recognizable actor and actress available at the time, particularly those who had achieved success on the small screen.

Andrew Stevens, son of actress Shelly Stevens, played the title role of Philippe Charbonneau (who became the Americanized Philip Kent).  I immediately recognized Stevens as he had previously had a role in my favorite miniseries, "Once An Eagle", playing Sam Damon's  son, Donny.

[As an aside, "Once An Eagle", a gritty 9-hour miniseries based on Anton Myrer's bestselling novel and the vehicle that launched Sam Elliott's acting career,  was unavailable in any home video format for decades until, after much lobbying from fans including former students at West Point where the novel is required reading, Timess Media Group finally released it in 2010 .]

Stevens also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture Acting Debut for "The Boys in Company C", another of my favorite war films, in 1979.

Stevens gives a solid performance in both "The Bastard" and "The Rebels" although both he and Patricia Neal, who played the role of his mother Marie Charbonneau, struggled a little with their French accents.  As the bastard son of an English lord, Philippe has been raised on the promise that when he reached manhood he would be formally recognized by his father, the Duke of Kentland, and would spend his life in the pursuits of the wealthy and powerful.  We get a brief glimpse of pre-revolutionary France and Philippe even becomes good friends with the Marquis de Lafayette.

When word arrives that Philippe's father is near death, Philippe and his mother set out for England but find, upon arrival, that the Duke's wife, protective of her spoiled and arrogant son, will not even let them see the Duke and throws them out of the house.  Then, they are approached by a duplicitous bishop played quite effectively by Lorne Greene who has cast off his goody two-shoes role as Ben Cartwright.  The smarmy bishop attempts to get Marie to surrender the Duke's letter of formal acknowledgement.  Nearly sucuumbing to his wiles, Phillipe and Marie recognize his true aim at the last minute and send him packing.  Then somewhere in the middle of all this, Phillipe manages to have an affair with the Duke's son's wife Alicia, played quite seductively by Olivia Hussey.

[Although her character in this miniseries is not an admirable one, I found her character of Rebecca of York in the miniseries "Ivanhoe" produced in 1982 quite sympathetic.  That miniseries was another example of an outstanding novel adaptation that was not available on home video anywhere close to me anyway (remember there was no internet or Amazon's back then) for decades but was finally released on DVD in 2009.  I have to admit, though, my favorite character was the villain, Brian de Bois-Guilbert, wonderfully played by Sam Neill.]

When Philippe and Marie decide to return to Kentland and demand admittance, Phillipe and the Duke's recognized son get into a scuffle (rather poorly choreographed I'm afraid) and the Duke's son's hand is irreparably damaged.  Philippe and his mother are urged to flee and they retreat to London where they are rescued from street ruffians by a well meaning printer and his son.  To repay the printer's kindness Phillipe begins helping with the firm's printing orders and demonstrates a talent for the task.  But the Duke's mangled son has hired a deliciously villainous one-eyed assassin played by Cameron Mitchell (at that time most remembered for his role as Uncle Buck on "The High Chaparral".

The Mitchell character spots Phillipe and trails him to the print shop.  But Phillipe is warned in time and prepares to flee once again but not before Phillipe meets a gregarious Ben Franklin played rather flippantly by Tom Bosley.  The encounter injects the seed of adventure into young Phillipe and, armed with a letter of recommendation from Franklin, he decides to try to find a job as a printer in the American colonies.  To be more readily accepted in the colonies, he also decides to adopt a new name, Philip Kent.

Fortunately, upon arrival in America, after a few missteps and a thorough thrashing by some toughs near the docks, Philip manages to land a job with a well-regarded printer, Benjamin Edes, played by Buddy Ebsen, who is also a member of the Sons of Liberty.  Philip gets involved with them as well and his subsequent exploits include encounters with Paul Revere played by a certain former Star Fleet captain, William Shatner and a fiery Samuel Adams played by William Daniels.

Of course, in the second installment, "The Rebels" Philip ends up as an officer in the Continental Army and best friends with Judson Fletcher played quite forcefully by a very young Don Johnson just a few years before he gained fame on "Miami Vice".  TV's favorite sidekick, Doug McClure also joins the action and even Rory Calhoun drops in for a few scenes.  My favorite part of this segment was the depiction of the treacherous march when Philip and his companions are trying to drag huge cannon  from Fort Ticonderoga back to Washington's beleaguered troops outside of Boston in the dead of winter.  This particular event did actually happen but occurred in May 1775 so I doubt there was much snow then.  It was also spearheaded by the famous Green Mountain Boys led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold.  As Benedict Arnold was still viewed narrow mindedly as America's worst traitor back in the 1970s, I'm sure Hollywood did not want to confuse anyone by highlighting his valiant efforts on behalf of the American cause at Fort Ticonderoga.

The poorly trained American army also actually suffered many defeats early in the Revolution, even after Washington assumed command.  But these events were only mentioned briefly as minor setbacks in the miniseries.  Even Valley Forge wasn't portrayed as devastating to the troops as it actually was probably so as not to shine too much light on the conditions of the troops compared to the relative comfort of Washington and his adjutants.  The wealthy elite making up the Continental Congress were also not portrayed in a particularly negative light even though there were times during the revolution that they wouldn't even back the financial committments made to the volunteer army in the field in favor of war profiteering. But, after all, the movie was supposed to be a celebration of our independence not a critique of our founding fathers' motives.

In the third installment, Philip, now played by Martin Milner, has unfortunately morphed into a rather rigid curmudgeon who tries to lay the law down to his son Abraham played effectively by Randolph Mantooth of "Emergency" fame.  But Abraham does not wish to follow in his father's footsteps into the printing business and strikes out, rather naively, for the land west of Ohio with the assistance of nasty and nefarious Leland Pell played by Vic Morrow.  (Vic Morrow was such a talented actor playing riveting heroes and villains alike).  Abraham succeeds in protecting his wife from Pell but he is a poor farmer at best and when his wife is killed by two drunken Indians looking for whiskey in the barn of his homestead, he retreats to Boston where he attempts to resume his father's trade under the supervision of his younger brother Gilbert who has taken over the firm after his father's death.  But Abraham drinks and spends so much time in the local brothels that he contracts "the pox", apparently syphillis.  Finally, his brother orders him out of the family home but refuses to let him take Abraham's young son, Jarod, with him.  Instead, Jarod is raised by Gilbert although Gilbert's shrewish wife makes it clear she can't abide the boy making his life miserable.

Jarod finally reaches an age where he would be accepted into the budding American Navy so escapes the wicked step mother by heading off to sea on "Old Ironsides" (which I have toured in Boston harbor and is still manned by the U.S. Navy).  But Jarod finds he has attracted the unwanted attention of the lascivious Lt. Hamilton Stovall played quite effectively by George Hamilton.  Fortunately, Stovall suffers severe burns when he falls against a red-hot cannon during his attempts to corner Jarod in the middle of a battle with the British and disappears into a rehabilitation hospital.

Jarod eventually returns to Boston after four years in the Navy but I must admit, he is the most innocent and naive sailor I have ever seen (being the daughter of a career Navy man and wife of a Vietnam veteran).  He can't seem to defend himself even after that long in the service so it makes you roll your eyes when he swears to protect his cousin Amanda.

His uncle Gilbert has died and his stepmother has gotten married to a ruthless gold digger, Mr. Piggott, played by Hugh O'Brian.  (Hugh O'Brian, who gained fame as a very sanitized and heroic Wyatt Earp in the late 1950s and early 1960s is much like Vic Morrow in that he can play a really nasty villain when given the part)  Piggott is not only a gold digger but a terrible gambler who has frittered away Kent & Sons.  When Jarod goes down to the print shop to see what can be salvaged, he discovers the entire estate his grandfather worked so hard to build has been acquired by none other than the evil Hamilton Stovall who openly admits to cheating Piggott out of the Kent assetts in his master plan to ruin the Kents.  In a fury, Jarod fires a pistol at Stovall but hits Stovall's attorney instead.  Fearing he will be charged with murder, he flees Boston taking his cousin Amanda with him.  They head west with practically nothing but the clothes on their backs and come upon what appears to be a harmless minister played by Stuart Whitman who rapes and kidnaps Amanda after knocking Jarod out.  Amanda is subsequently sold to a pair of trappers heading up the Missouri River who are attacked by Indians.  Amanda changes hands once more and is taken into the household of one of the warriors.  Meanwhile, Jarod searches for her accompanied by an old mountain man played by Brian Keith.

Although its been years since I read the book, this is the point where the book ends.  But Hollywood couldn't quite leave things unresolved so they have Jarod track down his cousin, which takes several years, only to find she now has a family of her own and doesn't wish to leave her (very handsome) warrior/husband played by Donald Mantooth, Randolph's brother - sort of bringing this segment full circle.

The miniseries, as a product of the 1970s, does not get into the political details driving the separation of the American colonies from Great Britain and all traditional American heroes that make an appearance in the miniseries are portrayed as pretty much squeaky clean.  So a serious scholar of the American Revolution should not view this production as Hollywood's  attempt to educate the public.  The budget for this miniseries must have also been tight after paying so many name actors for such small cameo appearances.  There are no large scale battle scenes and no scenes involving large numbers of costumed actors or extras.  But the series served its purpose to bring attention to the country's origins shortly after the celebration of the bicentennial and entertain a public relieved to be out of the Vietnam War and wishing to forget the sordid Washington politics of the Watergate era.

Note: The DVD set is now available directly from Acorn Media or from the usual internet sources like Amazon.  Acorn Media specializes in historical dramas and documentaries. They also offer an online streaming service as well "with a special focus on the best of British television and mind, body, spirit programming."  They presently charge only $29.95 for a full year of streamed, commercial free programming with over 100 hours of programming available at any given time.  Membership also includes free standard shipping on any DVDs ordered from their extensive library and specials offers throughout the year.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review: Conqueror by Conn Iggulden

This fifth novel in Conn Iggulden's series covering the rise to power and reigns of Genghis Khan and his descendants is once more breathtaking in its scope and alive with vibrant characters who slash their way across Asia in their struggle to become the Great Khan of the Mongol people.   

As the novel opens, Güyük, eldest son of Genghis Khan's third son, Ogedei, has assumed the throne after his father dies of a heart ailment.  But, Güyük is suspicious of Prince Batu, son of Ghengis' eldest son Jochi, because Batu did not attend the great kurultai or tribal gathering where tribal leaders confirm the choice of the new khan and swear an oath of loyalty to him.  Batu rules remnants of the famous Golden Horde that swept through Russia initially under the leadership of the famed warlord Subutai and now controls the lands west of the Volga River.

Historically, this is accurate as far as it goes.  Batu claimed he could not attend the kurultai when first invited by Ogedei's widow and ruling regent, Toregene, and Batu's failure to obey the summons delayed the succession for several years.  But eventually, in 1246 CE, Güyük was proclaimed Great Khan at a ceremony attended by Batu's brothers, who represented the Jochid branch of the family.  But Güyük would have been painfully aware of Batu's personal popularity as Batu was called "agha" (or elder brother in Mongolian) by the people and considered the most respected prince in the Empire so certainly the attendance of substitutes would have been duly noted.

Friction between the two actually dates back to the Mongol invasion of Europe.  The Great Khan Ogedei ordered Batu to conquer the western nations at a kurultai in 1235 CE and was assigned an army of over 130,000 men.  He was joined by the other Mongol princes including Güyük.  After three brutal years of fighting, including the devastation of 14 Rus cities, a victory banquet was held where Batu was ridiculed by Güyük, apparently disapproving of Batu's battle strategies, and calling him "an old woman with a beard".  Infuriated, Batu reported Güyük's behavior to the Great Khan who called Güyük back to Mongolia for a reprimand.

In the novel, once Güyük was named Great Khan, he took his father's warriors and began to march west under a pretext of training exercises, with the actual goal of personally wresting Batu's khanate away from him.  Batu is warned of Güyük's intentions by Sorghaghtani, widow of Genghis Khan's younger brother Tolui and mother of Kublai.  In the novel (Spoiler alert) Kublai disguises himself as a Yam rider, the Mongolian version of the Pony Express, and embarks on a strenuous dash across the continent to warn Batu who clandestinely intercepts Güyük while the Great Khan is out hunting with only a body slave in attendance.
Historically, Güyük is said to have died suddenly from natural causes but the thrilling encounter between Güyük and Batu theoretically could have occurred.

Kublai's involvement is also imagined although Sorghaghtani did warn Batu and probably would have used the Yam messenger system and would have needed to find a messenger that would not have been loyal to the new Khan.  Who better than one of her own sons?

Meanwhile, Kublai's older brother, Mongke, is with Güyük's entourage.  Mongke orders the army to return the Khan's body to the Mongolian capital where a kurultai is held following the funeral and Mongke is proclaimed the new Khan.  After Mongke assumes the throne, he immediately begins a purge of the Ogedeid clan including the execution of the much revered Toregene, widow of Ogedei Khan and mother of Güyük.
This purge is quite probable although history merely records that the Ogedeid and Chagataid clans were punished for their lack of support for Mongke's ascension to the throne.  The death of Toregene, who has been portrayed sympathetically in  Iggulden's previous novel, "Empire of Silver", lends a dark aspect to the rule of Mongke which is not supported by the historical record although Toregene was also not as ethically unassailable as she was portrayed either.

Historically, Ogedei named a son by another wife, Kochu, as his successor. When that son died unexpectedly on a campaign in China, Ogedei named Kochu's son, Siremun, as his successor.   Toregene was determined, though, that Güyük would be Khan.  When Ogedei died and Toregene was named regent until a kurultai could be held to confirm a new Khan, Toregene delayed the kurultai until Güyük garnered enough support for a successful bid.  (Evidently, Batu was not the only one trying to delay the naming of a new Khan).

However, the relationship between mother and son did not last after Güyük ascended the throne.  Toregene had promoted a Tajik or Persian woman named Fatima to a high post in the imperial administration and she and Toregene had become close friends.  When Güyük's brother, Koden, became ill he accused Fatima of witchcraft.  Güyük demanded that the woman be turned over for execution.  His mother, Toregene, refused and threatened suicide if he tried to harm the woman.  Güyük's men seized Fatima anyway and put her to death then purged his mother's other supporters in the imperial household.  Toregene herself died under unexplained circumstances about 18 months later.  Therefore, she was presumably already dead by the time
Mongke ascended the throne although the timing would have been close.

But, let's return to Iggulden's story.

Mongke is a Mongol warrior of the old school in sharp contrast to Kublai who has pursued an education in Chinese philosophy and cultural pursuits.  When Mongke assumes the throne he purges the Mongolian court of all Chinese officials and philosophers and orders Kublai to China to expand the empire by conquering the Song.  He also asks Kublai to swear he will forsake his Chinese books and ways and learn the skills of a warrior and general.  He sends with him a son of the famous warlord Subutai named Uryankhadai.  The subsequent battles require all of the cunning and expert military strategy Kublai and Uryankhadai can devise to defeat Song armies often with as much as a 10 to 1 numerical advantage over the Mongolian forces.  But Kublai is often cut off from the Mongolian homeland and little information trickles back to Mongke Khan.  Mongke becomes suspicious and decides his younger brother may need some assistance and sets out with a relief force.

On the way, an Ismaili assassin from the Fatimid Empire that was  attacked and sacked by Mongke's younger brother Hulagu, ends Mongke's reign.

Historically, there are various conflicting accounts about Mongke's death.  Most scholars have settled upon reports that he died of dysentery or cholera while besieging a city.  However, there are accounts that at one point the Ismaili-Hashashin's imam Alaud-Din dispatched hundreds of assassins to kill Mongke in his palace. So Iggulden's use of this scenario is certainly plausible.

Kublai is still fighting the Song and senses he is close to total victory so when he finally receives a summons to a kurultai in Karakorum to choose a successor to the Khan, he ignores it.  But his younger brother, Ariq Böke, does not wait and has himself declared Khan.  In the meantime, after a horrendous battle and great Mongolian victory, Kublai is declared Khan by his troops setting the stage for an epic succession struggle that served as the climax for the book.

One last historical note.  At the end of the novel, Ariq Böke is executed.  Kublai actually pardoned Ariq Böke although he did have many of Ariq Böke's companions executed.

According to scholar David Morgan, "Ariq Böke can be seen as representing an influential school of thought among the Mongols, which Kublai through his actions and attitudes after 1260 opposed. Some Mongols felt there was a dangerous drift towards softness, typified in those like Kublai who thought there was something to be said for settled civilization and for the Chinese way of life."

Once more Conn Iggulden succeeded in bringing the vibrant Mongol culture to life in a way that leaves you, at times, breathless.  I would love another installment that explores the world Kublai envisioned compared to the legacy he actually left behind.  Are you listening Mr. Iggulden?

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