Sunday, 29 July 2018

Fall of Eagles: Indian Summer of an Emperor

This episode introduces us to World War 1, which is an underrated war (usually it gets overshadowed by its more famous sequel) probably best known these days for its appearances in Blackadder Goes Forth.

To begin with there is little sign of what is to come. The focus here is back on Austria, where Emperor Franz Josef is now very old and his ministers and generals are preparing for when his nephew and heir, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, will take over.

They are represented here by Count Conrad von Hotzendorf, played by T P McKenna (Ex-President Sarkoff in Blakes 7's Bounty, Captain Cook in Doctor Who's Greatest Show in the Galaxy), and form an unofficial party in opposition to the the Emperor - the sort of thing that Bismarck prevented Crown Prince Frederick from doing in Germany all the way back in episode two.

Speaking of Germany, Archduke Franz Ferdinand is great friends with Kaiser Wilhelm, and they go hunting bunnies together. (I'm not sure why mannys need shotguns to go hunting bunnies, unless...)
Franz Ferdinand is played by Peter Woodthorpe, his voice unmistakable: the one true Gollum and Pigsy.

Franz Ferdinand has fallen out with Franz Josef over his decision to marry someone that Franz Josef doesn't think is important enough, and as a result he gets on better with the Kaiser than with his own uncle. To assert his independence from the Emperor, Franz Ferdinand decides to take his wife with him to Sarajevo where he thinks they will be appreciated and where he can get assassinated properly.

Emperor Franz Josef does not have much luck with his heirs in this series, seeing as the last time we had an episode focus on Austria we saw his previous heir, his son Rudolf, die.

As is typical for Fall of Eagles, Archduke Franz Ferdinand gets assassinated off screen between scenes, and we instead see only the repercussions as the Emperor is informed. Even though this is a serious moment - a turning point in history, even - there is time for a humorous, farcical scene as Franz Josef has to break the bad news to his nephew Karl that he is the new heir over the telephone, a newfangled contraption that the aged Emperor struggles to cope with.

The second half of the episode shows the aftermath of the assassination, with Franz Josef not wanting to have a war, and in fact secretly a bit relieved that Franz Ferdinand is not going to be the next Emperor any more, but his ministers and generals try to push him into war so that Austria does not look weak in front of the other countries.

The Kaiser also wants war, and he and his new Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg (Peter "Dr Warlock" Copley) push their ally into attacking Serbia by promising all the help Austria might need if any country were to declare war right back at them.

The episode's final scene is blackly humourous with the hindsight of what will follow, as the British receive the news of the assassination and decide that it is nothing for them to worry about.

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