This episode is peculiar. It has a new writer, new director, same production design, same King (James Maxwell), but in this episode, Maxwell’s end credit is just as “The King,” not “King Henry VII.” Because it doesn’t matter who he is. He doesn’t need to be the king. He could just as easily be Pontius Pilate. If there is a Jesus homage, it’s more functional than anything else, like writer Hugh Whitemore wanted the framework but not too many of the details. So I guess Maxwell couldn’t just as easily be Pontius Pilate.
David Bowie is Pontius Pilate. And Maxwell is no David Bowie. And David Bowie is no James Maxwell.
The episode’s about Maxwell getting interested in this condemned heretic, played by Peter Jeffrey. Unbeknownst to Maxwell, one of the soldiers guarding Jeffrey also gets interested. David Ashton plays the young soldier. Ashton doesn’t understand what heresy means while Maxwell is just looking for a debate. He’s a privileged, bored White man with a wife and baby at home; of course he wants to debate some guy who’s condemned to death.
It’s been very interesting to see how Catholic the English are in the “Tower” era. Hearing Maxwell harp on about the greatness of the Catholic Church is strange, almost disconcerting. Though that reaction’s probably a combination of history major and BBC-watcher, your mileage may vary.
So Maxwell, defender of the Catholic faith, debates Jeffrey, who just wants to go back to Jesus’s teachings from the Bible and knock it off with all the corrupt Church stuff. Maxwell “wins” the debate by dismissing Jeffrey’s reliance on empirical evidence; of course it doesn’t make senes if you see it, God made it that way not to make sense so you wouldn’t try to figure it out.
But the real emotion comes with Jeffrey and Ashton. See, Ashton’s got an impressionable young mind and a good heart and he bonds with Jeffrey, which does Jeffrey some good, but also not.
There’s an unfortunate voice over sequence but it’s the early seventies so it can be forgiven. Nothing really matters since Jeffrey can act through anything. He’s phenomenal, spell-binding, whatever. You hang on every word. It’s a heck of a downer but a damned good one.