blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

The Shadow of the Tower (1972) s01e02 – Power in the Land

This episode tells a loser’s story. He played the game of thrones and he lost. The loser in question is Humphrey Stafford; real guy, wikipedia page and everything, played by Maurice Roëves. Roëves is awesome. He also gets to give more personality to Stafford than anyone else in the episode gets near. Sure, it’s not like we realize Stafford’s just a proto-rich white guy playing anarchist—like everything in Tower, the characters tell us twice in expository dialogue—but Roëves’s performance then syncs up with that revelation. And that revelation even informs some of Roëves’s performance. It’s a lot of personality for the show. But Stafford’s one of history’s losers. Again, I never did English royalty in history courses and I’ve always avoided it. So everything’s a surprise. Until the Boer War. But the show knows. And the show positions Roëves as this non-tragic loser. It’s very interestingly executed, rather well-done. Roëves makes the difference.

Then, of course, there’s the other half of the episode, which is a history lesson about how King Henry VII started breaking up the Church and the State. To get at Stafford, who was hiding in sanctuary. You couldn’t get sanctuary in a church for treason anymore. The show doesn’t do a pro and con of it, it’s just something Henry (James Maxwell) has got to do to solve this problem. He doesn’t consider the consequences. The characters are all very certain of their godawful take on reality, making Tower a lot more striking—dramatically—than Game of Thrones. Some guy even talks about the game in the episode.

One thing the show doesn’t care about? Maxwell and Norma West. She’s pregnant so she can’t hang out with him on the road and when he’s in London he’s always too busy but apparently their marriage has been going well. For the fifteenth century or whatever. But there’s no character development from anything in the previous episode. Strangely so. It’s like West, as an actor, doesn’t remember her arc from last episode. It’s a weird vibe. But fine. West and Maxwell are potentially likable together in a show where no one’s got rewarding chemistry camaraderie for the audience. You take what you can get, charm-wise.

It’s a really good hour of television; I learned things, I was entertained, I was amused. Rosemary Anne Sisson’s script was good, director Anthea Browne-Wilkinson kept it moving.

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