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The first-ever Masterpiece Theater broadcast? How exciting is THAT....?!
Acorn Media / 532 Minutes / 1969 / Unrated / Street Date: June 4, 2013
One looks at the DVD box art for The First Churchills and it looks pretty much like a hundred other moldy-oldy BBC programming from multiple decades ago, but then a little tidbit of info on its back side intrigues: this was the first miniseries ever shown on Masterpiece Theater. This kind of news might not exactly light up the internet crowd, but for those of us whose parents had the PBS show on in the background every now and then during the 70s and 80s, this is an intriguing scenario.
The show itself is engaging if perhaps a little dry. Based on Winston Churchill’s semi-fictionalized books about his ancestors from the 1600s, The First Churchills errs heavily on the side of opulent costumes and flowery speech, but there’s a spirit to the narrative festivities here that keeps things pleasantly interesting. And with performances from John Neville (The Adventures of Baron Munchausen) and Susan Hampshire (Monarch of the Glen), there’s more than enough breathy melodrama to go around.
Is The First Churchills mandatory entertainment of any major regard? Probably not. It looks like it was shot using cameras with burlap sacks over their lenses, and sometimes the miniseries’ dramatic motion slows to a glacial crawl, but Anglophilic fans of Masterpiece Theater might just find some well-worn fun within this TV-on-DVD box set. At the very least, it might make for some summertime stop-gap entertainment that will officially make you a PBS enthusiast who has officially seen the first-ever Masterpiece Theater broadcast. How cool does that make you?