Disraeli (1978)

 

 

Director:     Claude Whatham.

Starring:     Rosemary Leach (Queen Victoria), Ian McShane (Benjamin Disraeli), Mary Peach (Mrs. Wyndham 'Mary Anne' Lewis), Antony Brown (Sir Robert Peel), Brewster Mason (Chancellor Bismarck), Renée Asherson (Lady Bradford), Brendan Barry (Sir Stafford Northcote), Rachel Bell (Clara), Frances Bennett (Lady Chesterfield), John Carlisle (William Gladstone), David de Keyser (Baron de Rothschild), Mark Dignam (Lord Lyndhurst), Patrick Drury (Montagu Corry), John Gregg (Lord Salisbury), Suzanna Hamilton (Princess Alexandra), Patricia Hodge (Rosina Bulwer), Leigh Lawson (Count D'Orsay), Jenny Lipman (Sarah), Jeremy Longhurst (Prince Albert), William Merrow (Prince Gortchakoff), Aubrey Morris (Isaac D'Israeli), Madelena Nedeva (Henrietta), Anton Rodgers (Bentinck), Sheila Ruskin (Caroline), William Russell (Wyndham Lewis), Trevor T. Smith (Count Schouvaloff), Brett Usher (Bulwer), Margaret Whiting (Lady Blessington), David Wood (Lord Derby).

Mini-series about the political career of Benjamin Disraeli. 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Episode I.  Dizzy. 

Creditors are trying to catch Benjamin Disraeli at home so they can ask him to pay his bills.  A friend of his arrives and the creditors ask him where Disraeli is.  He tells them he saw the man down on the street corner.  The creditors run out to catch Disraeli.  The fellow smiles.  He deliberately misled the creditors to get rid of them. 

1831.  At a social gathering of socially important people part of the talk is about Disraeli.  Some say they have sent the man many invitations, but he's simply dropped out of sight ever since his return from his travels in the Middle East.   Disraeli shows up late, but he shows up.  He is dressed in black in an outfit that makes him appear a bit effeminate (or like a dandy).  Someone refers to him as the "most illusive man in London".  Edward Bulwer greets him.  He then introduces him to his wife the red-headed Rosina Bulwer.  Disraeli is somewhat known in these circles, especially among the women, because he wrote a book entitled Vivian Gray

Disraeli meets Mrs. Bolton, who seems to already know him.  He asks her to give his regards to Dr. Bolton.  Disraeli tells Bulwer that he doesn't know many society people, but Bulwer says that they all know him and are eager to meet him.  He adds that his novels have outraged all London.  Bulwer tells Disraeli that he wants to introduce him to some of the politicians at the party.  The man that Disraeli meets is Daniel O'Connell, leader of the Irish Radicals.  Another man is Count Alfred D'Orsay.  O'Connell says about Disraeli:  "I cannot abide these flashy Israelites."  He clearly says that he does not want to meet Disraeli. 

Mrs. Mary Anne Lewis greets Disraeli.  She claims that she is Disraeli's greatest admirer.  They sit together for awhile.  She introduces him to her husband Wyndham Lewis, a Tory.  Disraeli says that he himself is more liberal.  Mary Anne invites Disraeli to dine with them.  Disraeli finally gets away from the talkative Mary Anne.  He goes to talk to Bulwer again.   When she catches him by himself, Mrs. Bolton asks Disraeli:  "Why haven't you been to see me?" He says that he has been with his family in the country.  Mrs. Bolton then says that they must make an appointment to meet.  Disraeli says he has taken rooms at the St. James on Duke Street. 

At dinner Mary Anne gets Disraeli to sit by her.   Later Disraeli refers to her as "that insufferable woman."  Mrs. Bolton complains to him again and he tells her that what was between them is now over.  He reminds her that it was she who abandoned. him.  Mrs. Bolton says she had a good reason.  He had become the laughing stock of society.  A lot of society people see him as a penniless upstart with a great opinion of himself.

Bulwer speaks with Disraeli again.  At the age of nineteen, Disraeli had gambled on the Stock Exchange with money that wasn't exactly his.  He says he has been paying off the debts ever since.  Bulwer tells Disraeli that he had set out to conquer society, but now he must storm the salons.  He then takes Disraeli to meet Lady Blessington and they talk with her and Count D'Orsay.  D'Orsay takes Disraeli to meet the leader of the Tories, Sir Robert Peel.  Peel is very icy toward Disraeli, who says something snappy back to the leader.  Peel is not amused.  D'Orsay tells Benjamin that they can't call him Ben because that is the name of a prize fighter.  So D'Orsay decides that everyone should call him Dizzy. 

Disraeli fights to win a by-election at Wyckham.  His father is rather critical of him.  Ben says that he is standing as an independent.  His father says that the seats are controlled by one of the two political parties.  But Ben insists that he will run as an independent and will win on his merits.    He gives his first political speech. 

Voting day arrives.  In those days people had to declare their vote in front of their employer, in this case Colonel Gray.  One fellow gets up and loudly announces:  "I cast my vote for Colonel Gray."  The result of the election is 20 for Gray and 12 for Disraeli.  This does not discourage Ben.  He will stand again at the next election.

Disraeli meets with Lady Blessington, D'Orsay and the painter.  The painter says that he likes Disraeli's sister Sarah, an intelligent woman.  Dizzy talks about his plans for the next general election.  D'Orsay asks:  "Is all the effort worth it?"  Without noble birth, powerful friends or a private fortune, what can Dizzy hope to achieve?  Dizzy says:  "Everything."    Wyckham is just the first rung. 

With his family, Ben has to accept electoral defeat for the second time.  And he can't pay his election expenses.  He says he has not six pence in the bank.  His father tells him:  "I'll handle it. . . . You've done well."  They talk about the hidden prejudice (anti-Semitism).  His dad says that despite being a member of the Church of England, by birth he is still a Jew.  Ben says:  "I refuse to let myself be beaten." 

The leader of the Tory Party tells Disraeli:  "We all admire your perseverance."  Mary Anne invites him to dine with her and her husband again.  Disraeli accepts.  A little latter he asks who is that woman?  It is Henrietta, the wife of Sir Francis Sykes.  Dizzy goes to speak with Mr. Sykes, who tells him that his wife has been talking about him.  Dizzy talks with Henrietta. 

Henrietta and Dizzy are at the beach.  They appear to be having a relationship.  They are suddenly joined by Mr. Sykes and Clara Bolton.  They all return.  Inside the house Clara decides to go home.  Dizzy tells Henrietta:  "I cannot work for thinking of you.  Leave him!  Leave him! . . . I love you."  They hug and kiss.  The husband returns from walking Clara out.  In the resulting confrontation, Henrietta says that she can no longer hide her emotions.  Mr. Sykes says he will go abroad for a year with Clara, with whom he is having an affair, until any scandal has passed.  After he leaves Henrietta happily says:  "Free!"  Dizzy says they will be targets of gossip and the object of censure.  But both want to go ahead with the affair. 

In the bedroom with Henrietta, they talk about being besieged by creditors.  Dizzy says that he wants to act in great events.  Henrietta says:  "I will wave my magic wand and do something about it."  What she does is introduce Dizzy to the influential politician Lord Lyndhurst.  He says that although Dizzy is not a Tory he will talk to Peel and the Duke of Wellington.  Disraeli describes himself as a progressive conservative.  Lyndhurst says they need new people in the party to counter the new young Whigs who call themselves liberals.  And the first step is to get Disraeli elected to the Carlton Club.  And to help the young man further, Disraeli will become Lyndhurst's secretary.   

Disraeli loses the election again.  Daniel O'Connell berates him for becoming a conservative and talks about him being Jewish.  This so offends Dizzy that he sends O'Connell a public challenge to prove his words through a duel.  Henrietta Sykes is not happy.  She tells Dizzy that her family doesn't speak to her because of him.  Now Disraeli learns that Henrietta was Lyndhurst's lover.  He comments:  "Oh, so you used his affection for you to buy favors for me."  Henrietta replies:  "Of course not."  They both apologize to each other.  Henrietta tells him:  "Don't ever doubt me."  Danny the painter comes to tell Dizzy that D'Orsay wants to see him.  Dizzy leaves.

D'Orsay and Lady Blessington talk with Dizzy.  They say that Wellington took note of his duel challenge to O'Connell and is impressed by his courage.  He told Peel to do something for him.  So Peel wants Dizzy to dine with him.  The pair claim that:  "Everyone speaks of you with new respect."  Disraeli is so happy that he rushes to tell Henrietta the good news.  But he finds Henrietta and Danny on the bed making love.  Dizzy confronts the couple, but it doesn't seem to have much effect on Henrietta.  She keeps laughing as Dizzy leaves. 

Sister Sarah tells Ben that she is worried about him.  Ben tells her not to worry, but Sarah tells him to stop wallowing in self-pity over Henrietta and his other defeats.  She asks him why is he so bitter. Ben replies that he is almost thirty-years old and has accomplished little.  Sarah tells him that the old king is dying and that he must be ready to try and try again. 

1837.  Dizzy is at Mary Anne's place.  She and her husband toast with Dizzy to Queen Victoria.  Mary Anne tells Dizzy that she wants to back his political career.  She tells him:  "I only back winners."  Wyndham says that he wants Dizzy to stand for election with him in his own district of Maidstone.  Furthermore, he tells Dizzy that he will pay all his election expenses.  Dizzy accepts.  In the election, both of them win. 

Episode II.  Mary Anne. 

Mary Anne talks with Dizzy, who tells her that they outnumber the traditional Conservatives, but the Irish and radicals will vote with them and keep them in office.  Mary Anne says:  "Then you must attack!  Split them up!"  Dizzy replies:  "I intend to!" 

Disraeli gives his first speech in Parliament.  He is laughed down.  He shouts:  "There will come a time you will hear me."  Disraeli is very disappointed by his reception, but Peel is not disappointed. Dizzy is down but gets a political shock when Daniel O'Connell's right hand man comes to see him.  He tells Dizzy that his reception today was fortunate.  His bad reception is because the other MPs are suspicious of his reputation for wit and brilliance.  Therefore, his second speech will be the important one.  He then advises Dizzy that his second speech should be a surprise.  He tells him not to be brilliant, but rather short and simple; "get rid of your genius"; and go for soundness.   Disraeli is grateful for the advice.  He tells the man that it was probably the truest piece of advice he has ever had. 

Mary Anne and Wyndham visit with Dizzy and his family.  She refers to him as "my protégé".  Dizzy tells Wyndham that he now finds his wife delightful and surprisingly shrewd. 

Disraeli gives his second speech in Parliament and this one is boring. 

D'Orsay tells Dizzy that he should marry an heiress.  This way he could clear up his debt.  Dizzy responds: "I never intend to marry for love, which I'm sure is a guarantee for unhappiness."

Bulwer comes to talk with Dizzy about the news, but quickly realizes that Dizzy has not heard the latest news.  So he tells him:  "Wyndham Lewis is dead."  It was a heart attack. 

Mary Anne speaks with Dizzy.  She says she was married for seventeen years.  Dizzy comforts her.  He praises her for her kindness and her sweet temper that will always make her his friend.  Later Dizzy speaks with D'Orsay.  Mary Anne has gone to Wales to attend to Wyndham's business affairs.  D'Orsay tells him that his prayers have been answered.  Now he can marry Mary Anne.  Dizzy protests that the woman is thirteen years older than he. 

Mary Anne returns and Dizzy speaks with her.  She tells him that his letters to her in her absence were more of a lover than a friend.  Dizzy uses the opportunity to propose marriage.  Mary Anne is not quite sure, so Dizzy offers her constant compassion and unchanging devotion.  Mary Anne say:  "I'm confused. . . .  I can't marry so soon.  I need time."  Disraeli tells her that he must have a sign from her of her true feelings.  He says that when she visits his family again, if she wants to be with him, tshe should remove the glove on her left hand. 

Mary Anne arrives at the Disraeli homestead.  When Disraeli gets to the porch from his walk outside, she takes off her left glove.  When he tells his father of his plans, dad responds:  "I hope you are not committing a folly, Ben."  Actually, dad is more concerned about Mary Anne's feelings than his son's.  He doesn't want to see her get hurt.  Ben says that he has found that he cannot live without Mary Anne.  Dad replies:  "It's a strange kind of love, Ben.  You're an enigma."   

Sarah tells her brother that Mary Anne has been seeing way too much of Rosina Bulwer.  Dizzy says that everyone knows that Rosina is crazy, but he quickly goes to visit Mary Anne.  He bursts into the room while Rosina is shredding his reputation.  Rosina promptly leaves.  Mary Anne tells Dizzy about her doubts caused by Rosina's many talks with her.   He asks her if she has discarded him or does she just wish to show her power over him.  Furthermore, Rosina's stories are all lies driven by hysterical jealousy.   And Mary Anne believed her?  Mary Anne says she knows a fraud when she sees one and that she will not be made a fool of.  Dizzy starts to leave.  Then Mary Anne drops her concerns and pleads with Dizzy not to leave her.  She tells him that she loves him beyond anything in the world. 

Disraeli and Mary Anne are married. 

1841.  Disraeli, Lyndhurst and Gladstone speak with each other about politics.  So Melbourne is out and Peel has agreed to form a government.  Lyndhurst is to be Lord Chancellor and Gladstone is said to be selected to be the Vice-President of the Board of Trade.  But Disraeli has heard nothing.  Lyndhurst tells him to be patient; that there are still many post to be filled.    Dizzy says that to be passed over would be overwhelming.  Later Dizzy writes to Peel not to destroy him politically. 

Peel takes Dizzy into consideration, but apparently a lot of other politicians have strong reservations.  One fellow refers to him as "that scoundrel Disraeli".  He disapproves of Dizzy's moral character.  Peel received both Dizzy and Mary Anne's letter to him and he thinks he should recognize Disraeli's efforts.  But when Dizzy opens the letter from Peel he discovers that he has been rejected for a government post. 

At a medieval fair Lyndhurst speaks to Dizzy about the M.P.s known as "Young England".  They are four friends from Cambridge who believe in a monarch ruling through an enlightened aristocracy.  It starts to rain and Dizzy and Mary Anne rush into a tent.  George Smile and John Mans come in too.  They say that Dizzy agrees with them that conservatism should be progressive and dynamic.  In short, they want Dizzy to lead them. 

Disraeli speaks in Parliament about the Irish question.  He notes the great misgovernment of Ireland; a situation that has lead Britain to condemnation the world over.  The speech maddens Peel who does not like Disraeli criticizing his own government.  The man must be brought to heal, he says.  Gladstone says:  "He should be driven from the party." 

Disraeli complains to Mary Anne that no one will follow his lead, that Peel only grows stronger.  But Peel went back on his word to the farmers.  The man promised to prevent any lowering of the price of imported grain so the farmers could get a good price for their goods.   And Young England is too scared to act.  Dizzy finishes with:  "I am completely alone."

In Parliament Dizzy gives another speech in support of his ideas.  Then much to his surprise his one-time enemy Lord George Bentinck rises to give a speech in support of Disraeli.  Dizzy is stunned.  In his speech Bentinck criticizes Peel for his betrayal of the farmers.  A vote is taken.  The vote of ayes to the right are 327 and nayes to the left are 229.  Dizzy says they lost.  But Bentinck says that no liberal or radical would go with the government so that means that within the Conservative Party Peel only got 112 votes, while they got over 200 votes.  Peel may have won the vote, but he lost the party. 

Peel has resigned.  The Liberals are back in power and the leaders of the conservatives are Stanley and the Lords.  Disraeli tells Bentinck that their group must have a leader and he wants Bentinck to be the man.  Bentinck says:  "No, not me!"   Instead of himself, Bentinck wants Dizzy to be the leader.  Dizzy counters by stating that Bentinck forced Stanley to acknowledge him.  Disraeli then says he would be proud to work for him.  Bentinck starts to come around.  But to seal the deal, he wants Dizzy to change his look in clothes.  Right now he looks like a "classic dandy" and that's why so many in his party don't trust him.  If Dizzy wants to be an influential actor on the political stage, he must look the part, rather than looking like some Italian dancing master. 

Both dressed all in black, Disraeli and Bentinck enter Parliament. 

Dizzy's dad dies.  Sarah says that she will have to move to a smaller house.  Dizzy tells his sister Sarah that Bentinck will be one of their greatest leaders. 

Bentinck comes to speak with Dizzy.  Dizzy says he looks worn out.  The Liberals are barely in power.   Disraeli is a member of Parliament for Buckinghamshire.  Bentinck tells him that if he wants to be one of the leaders of the landed gentry, he will have to be like them.  He gives Disraeli a 25,000 pound loan that he doesn't have to pay back in order to buy a house and property. 

Walking in the woods, Bentinck has a heart attack and dies. 

1846.  Peel is forced out of the leadership of the Conservatives. 

1850.  Peel dies. 

Disraeli learns that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert liked Peel a great deal.  Dizzy threatens to get out of politics if he does not get a high government post.  But he doesn't have to leave politics since the new prime minister, the Earl of Derby, wants to name him Chancellor of the Exchequer, the second most powerful position in the cabinet.  

1852.   Disraeli becomes Chancellor of the Exchequer. 

Episode III.  The Great Game. 

Jewish Baron Rothschild wants to take the oath of office on the Old Testament only.  He is met by a big vocal disapproval by the "Christian" members of the House of Commons.  The man issuing the oath tells the Baron that he may withdraw.  Disraeli gets up to protest this discrimination.  He says that the Baron was elected legally to represent London and he should be seated.  Someone shouts:  "This is a Christian country!"  Disraeli replies and it is as a Christian that he rejects the prejudice against this man. 

Dizzy and Mary Anne have dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone.  They note that they were all married in the same year twenty years ago.  Mary Anne show the Gladstones one of her many scrap books about her husband.  One of the items she saved is from Punch and shows Disraeli and Gladstone as the "Balancing Brothers of Westminster".   The meaning of the political cartoon is that Gladstone opposes everything that Disraeli proposes.  

Dizzy tells Gladstone that they need his cooperation even though they are both members of the Conservative Party.  Gladstone may even be a member of Lord Darby's cabinet.  Dizzy says he has asked Sir James Graham to serve as the leader of the House of Commons rather than either of them.  Gladstone says he needs time to reflect. 

When Lord Darby speaks with Dizzy he says that Gladstone is driven by only two things:  personal ambition and envy of you.  He says that Dizzy will now be the one to report cabinet business in audiences with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. 

Dizzy speaks with Victoria and Albert.  Albert is very concerned about the national revolt of all classes in India.  He asks Disraeli what is his attitude on the matter.  Dizzy suggests that justice should be tempered with mercy.  Albert reveals then that the royal couple agree with him.  Dizzy says that his party wants to take the ruling power away from the East India Company (which ran India) and transfer it to the Crown.  When Disraeli leaves the couple, Queen Victoria says:  "What an extraordinary man."  And Albert wonders why he ever had such a negative view of the man.

Dizzy wants to give the right to vote to the lower paid class.  He meets quite a bit of opposition in his own party from those who say such a bill would only favor the Liberals.  A part of the party thinks that Dizzy ". . . is selling us out."  This party section seeks out a leader in Gladstone.  The section members feel that Lord Darby only cares about his race horses and leaves everything to Disraeli.  They say that the nation ". . . is governed by a Jew and a jockey."  Gladstone's section gets its wish fulfilled and Lord Darby has to resign. 

At home with Mary Anne, Lord Stanley is coming to dinner.  Learning about the recent defeat, Mary Anne says to her husband:  "Your own party still doesn't trust you."  Dizzy tells her that he offered his resignation, but they soon begged him to stay.  Mary Anne scolds him for thinking all this is just a game.  But Dizzy has great news for Mary Anne.  They are invited to Windsor Castle to dine with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. 

At the dinner table, Mary Anne and Dizzy sit apart and both are largely ignored.  But after dinner when the sexes separate, Princess Alice (Victoria's daughter) pays special attention to Mary Anne and Dizzy receives a great deal of political notice.  Disraeli says that he was tempted to take the post of Viceroy of India, but he wants to stay in the House of Commons.  Queen Victoria joins the women and she has a good laugh from something slightly off-color said by Mary Anne.

A man runs up to Dizzy and Mary Anne coming out of church to tell Dizzy that Prince Albert has typhoid fever and they cannot save him. 

Prince Albert has died.  Disraeli promises Queen Victoria to take no strong political action unless absolutely necessary for awhile.  The Queen is very grateful to Disraeli, but she has still other worries:  "Now I feel so alone."

At a ball given by the Rothschilds, the talk is about Gladstone becoming a Liberal.  Many are not surprised.  Rothschild tells Dizzy that he spent ten to eleven years without taking his seat in the House of Commons.  Dizzy gets to meet the Prussian Otto von Bismarck.  He follows the advise to speak frankly and openly to Bismarck and asks him questions that come right to the point,.  Bismarck tells Dizzy that he is a man he thinks he could talk to.  He then reveals his plans openly to Dizzy.  He says he will seek German national unity under Prussian leadership partly by the use of force against the smaller states.  Then he will war against Austria and kowtow the French.  Following the discussion, Dizzy says: "Look out for that man.  He means what he says."

Disraeli chooses the young man Montagu Corry to be his private secretary.  Lord Palmerson dies and Gladstone becomes the leader of the Liberal Party. 

Some of the Conservative Party complain about spending a lifetime as the opposition party.  Disraeli tries to cheer them up by saying that Gladstone has just played into their hands.  The man has blinded himself with his own righteousness.  They will keep up their attacks on the party in power and keep proposing amendments. 

The House of Commons demands the resignation of Gladstone.  Queen Victoria is absolutely delighted.  She much prefers Disraeli to Gladstone.  She tells Dizzy that Gladstone doesn't keep her informed and lectures her instead of talking with her.  Victoria tells Disraeli that these are trying times.  The reform riots have swept the country.  She adds:  "You must do something about it, Mr. Disraeli, and immediately."

Mary Anne takes the carriage ride with her husband to an important meeting.  Dizzy thanks her for her company.  The footman accidentally closes the door on Mary Anne's right hand, but she refuses to show any sign of pain so Dizzy will not worry about her.  When he leaves she calls out for the footman to open the door (so she can get her now bloody right hand out).  In the House of Commons Gladstone speaks passionately against the reform bill of the Conservatives.  Dizzy gets up to reply and turns it all into a joke, deflating Gladstone.  His fellow party members are thrilled with him.  They shout:  "They did it!" and give Dizzy a big applause. 

At home Mary Anne tells her husband:  "I knew you'd do it."  It is only then that Dizzy sees her bandaged hand.  Mary Anne dismisses it as unimportant. 

Lord Darby tells Disraeli that he has to resign for reasons of poor health.  He has recommended to the Queen that she put Disraeli in his place. Disraeli is the new Prime Minister.  He enters the House of Commons to a great applause from his side of the House. 

A general election had to be called.  The Liberal majority has doubled.  Victoria accepts Dizzy's resignation with much regret.  Dizzy tells her that he needs a period of rest anyway.  He has been working too hard of late.  Victoria says that she herself has been worried about his health.  Therefore, she now offers him a peerage.  This would allow him to be a member of the House of Lords.  He tells the Queen that for the sake of his party he must remain in the House of Commons and do battle with Gladstone. 

Dizzy returns home to give Mary Anne the good news.  He turned down a peerage, but Victoria, at his request, granted the peerage to his wife.  Mary Anne is now the Viscountess of Beaconsfield.  Mary Anne is so shocked and happy that she cries. 

Disraeli spends a lot of time at home caring for Mary Anne.  He spends so much time that some of his party members complain that they don't see him much anymore.  Mary Anne becomes sick while entertaining her guests.  One of her friends comes out to scold Dizzy for misleading her and others about the seriousness of Mary Anne's situation.  Dizzy explains that Mary Anne has cancer of the stomach.  Mary Anne doesn't know that he knows.  In fact, he has known about it for four or five years. 

Dizzy finally reveals to other party members that he has been working on a total reorganization of the party.  One member says that Dizzy is building a party machine.  Tomorrow Dizzy will leave for London.  Gladstone has been almost totally dominating the House of Commons and Dizzy wants to challenge Gladstone's leadership role.  In the House of Commons Disraeli criticizes Liberal policy in Ireland and he singles out Gladstone for his support of the statement that anyone can rule Ireland, with troops and artillery, that is. 

Disraeli goes on the attack again on the Liberal policy on Ireland from the stump in Mansfield.  Mary Anne is there to listen to his speech.  When Mary Anne descends the steps escorted by her husband's private secretary, she is surprised at the applause she hears.  Mr. Corry explains to her that they are applauding for her.  They have seen Disraeli's devotion to her and they applaud her successful marriage.  Dizzy soon joins her on the steps and the applause continues, but now it is for the both of them. 

Episode IV.  The Chief. 

Disraeli attends the funeral of his wife.  Afterwards, he mentions to his private secretary his marriage of thirty-three years that was one of love and loving kindness.  The secretary finds a letter addressed to Disraeli written sixteen years ago by his wife.  The letter says that if she should die before Dizzy, she wants him to make sure they are buried side by side.  She also tells him to look for someone new, someone who is as devoted to him as she herself was. 

Baron Rothschild comes to see Disraeli at his new home in a hotel.  He asks Mr. Corry why Disraeli moved into the hotel.  The reason is because it is comfortable and convenient for his trips to Parliament.  Dizzy could not stay in the home he shared with Mary Anne because the estate only belonged to his wife as long as she was alive.  After her death, her relatives gave Dizzy one month to remove his personal possessions from the estate. 

Because of his Irish policy defeat, Gladstone has resigned.  Disraeli will form a government.   The Baron tells Dizzy that his house is Dizzy's house.  The Queen has already called upon him to form the government.

The newest events are all the talk at the Carlton Club. Disraeli refused to form a government.  He tells people that the whole thing is just a trick of Gladstone's.  The Conservatives have never had a conservative majority and soon they would be at the mercy of their allies.  Then Gladstone will soon take over again.  Disraeli learns of the growing dissatisfaction in the party led by Lord Salisbury.  He says that they will bide their time, but be prepared. 

The Conservatives celebrate.  Not even Peel had a majority like this.  And, they say, it is all due to one man:  Disraeli.  When the man of the hour arrives at the Carlton Club he is met with a chorus of bravos.  Gladstone has resigned from Parliament as the leader of the Liberal party. 

Disraeli speaks with Queen Victoria.  The Conservatives won 105 seats versus only 50 seats for the Liberals.  He's astonished at the size of the victory.  Now he will form a government.  And once again he offers his "complete devotion and loyalty" to the Queen. 

Disraeli is appointing six peers and six commoners to his cabinet.  There is only one position left, the Secretary for India.  He has decided to give it to Lord Salisbury.  Disraeli figures that this will lesson the probability of a right-wing revolt in the Conservative party.  Germany is threatening France again.  Disraeli tells his cabinet that he wants to continue his brand of progressive conservatism.  He also will establish quite a bit of social legislation, such as slum clearance; savings banks; establish the rights of trade unions; and shortening the working hours.  Some in the cabinet say that this policy approach is more radical than that of Gladstone.  Disraeli replies:  "I want this government to represent every class . . ." 

Disraeli invites Silena over to his place.  He tells her that what he feels for her is something more than mere friendship, but she protests that he must not say he loves her again:  "I should not have encouraged you.  I am a married woman." 

The political talk is about the Turkish atrocities against Christian peasants who are in revolt.  Gladstone has been stirring up the sentiment against the Turks.  He has used his retirement to write pamphlets denouncing the Turks as savage murderers.  Disraeli says that the full scale revolt was backed by St. Petersburg, Russia.  Turkey is England's ally.  He adds:  "If we keep our heads, there will be no war."

Queen Victoria speaks with Disraeli again.  He is suffering from a touch of gout, he says.  She wants him to sit down, but he refuses to sit before the Queen.  Victoria mentions that it has been obvious for years that Russia wants India.  Disraeli insists that they won't let that happen.  He has recently learned from the Prince of Wales that the ruler of Egypt is almost totally bankrupt.  He is offering his shares in the Suez Canal for sale.  The British must buy these shares.  The Queen agrees. 

Disraeli says to his cabinet that the cost of buying the shares of the ruler of Egypt will be 4 million pounds.  Many of the ministers say that is an impossible amount of money.  But Disraeli says the matter is urgent.  Britain has the most interest of all the nations in the Canal.  Four-fifths of the ships using the Canal are British.   With the purchase of the shares, combined with shares from other sources, will give Britain have a controlling interest in the Canal.  All the ministers ultimately give their agreement to Disraeli.  Immediately, the Prime Minister opens the door to tell Mr. Corry that the matter has been approved. 

Corry goes straight to speak with Baron Rothschild.  He tells the wealthy man that Disraeli needs 4 million pounds by tomorrow.  The Baron asks what is the security.  The security is the British government itself.  The Baron replies:  "He shall have it!"

Disraeli makes Queen Victoria the Empress of India.  He talks with his old friend Ann.  He asks her to marry him, but she rejects the proposal.  She says that he would only be marrying her in order to be close to Silena. 

Parliament is wanting to confront Turkey, but Disraeli wants primarily to maintain the empire of England.  And they do not want to drive Turkey out of Europe. 

Disraeli has left the House of Commons forever.  He no long can bear the constant strain of debate.  He is going to the House of Lords.  And Gladstone has decided to take advantage of this and come out of retirement.  He has called for a holy crusade against the Turks. 

Disraeli wants Salisbury as Foreign Secretary. He tells the man that he is sending a British fleet to Constantinople.  And British troops are already on their way there.  Their main purpose is to safeguard British interests in the area.  He insists that Britain must bee seen by the Russians and others as ready to fight. 

Disraeli gets an ultimatum from Bismarck.  The British have send 1,000 native Indian troops to garrison Malta.  Bismarck has withdrawn his support from Russia.  Disraeli says Bismarck is hoping to become the leading statesmen of Europe. For that purpose he has called together the leading statesmen of Europe to a meeting in Berlin. 

Disraeli shakes hands with Bismarck when he arrives as the conference of statesmen.  Dizzy's first speech to the conference attendees is to be in French, the diplomatic language, but his French is terrible.  So Salisbury flatters him into giving the speech in English by telling him how so many attendees are looking forward to the intellectual experience of their lives of hearing him speak in his native language. 

After his speech, the Russian Chancellor speaks with Disraeli.  Dizzy says they should consider the size of the garrison to be put on the Turkish border with Bulgaria.  But the Tsar will not permit this, says the Chancellor.   It would mean that the efforts of Russia in the region would all be in vain.  They liberated the Christian section of Bulgaria at the cost of many Russian lives.  Later Disraeli says that this will mean war between Britain and Russia.  So he decides to make his diplomatic move.  He has a train stand by to take the British delegation home.  Bismarck speaks to Disraeli about the situation and tells him that he seems prepared to break up the congress.  Disraeli agrees that he is giving an ultimatum.  Bismarck laughs and tells Disraeli that he likes him:  "In a quarter of an hour you know completely where you stand."  He says he will speak to the Russian Chancellor.  Disraeli then tells Bismarck that Turkey has ceded part of the island of Cypress to be used by the British to guard the Suez Canal. 

Disraeli speaks from an open window to an enthusiastic audience below on the street.  He tells them that he and Lord Salisbury have brought them peace with honor.

Queen Victoria tells Disraeli that she is proud to have him as her friend.  Dizzy tells her that he is afraid that he will not be her Prime Minister for long.   No, not because of his health.  The nation has had five bad harvests in a row and the voters can't forgive the party in power for not being able to control the weather.  Victoria says that this means that she may have to put up with you-know-who:  that opinionated, half-mad, fanatical, old man Gladstone.  Disraeli says the worst part of it is that Gladstone believes God has put him in charge. 

Election night.  "We are out of office."  Disraeli has resigned.  He is not bitter at all, saying: "It is the people's choice."  He receives flowers from Her Majesty's gardens.  Disraeli is almost finished with his book Endymion based on his own life.  His private secretary tells him that he must rest.  Disraeli does not look good at all. 

Disraeli is in his bed.  He is preparing his last speech in the House of Lords.  And he receives more flowers from Windsor.  (Queen Victoria came down to Windsor from Osborn in Scotland to be nearer Disraeli.)  The Queen also sent him a letter full of concern and praise.

In the House of Commons Gladstone speaks of Disraeli.  One of his best characteristics was his great Parliamentary courage. 

Disraeli is buried next to his wife in the little graveyard of the church which they both attended.

 

Good series with lots of information about Benjamin Disraeli.  Both my wife and I liked it.  It is a bit difficult at times to follow what is going on in Parliament since little background information is given.  You should review the historical events and dates in Disraeli's life.  It was interesting to listen to many of the now politically incorrect statements of the British politicians: statements of anti-Semitism and sexism.  The performances by Ian McShane as Benjamin Disraeli and Mary Peach as Mary Anne Lewis were especially good.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 


Historical Background:

1804  --  born in  London, England of Italian-Jewish descent.

1813  --  his father quarrels with the synagogue of Bevis Marks.

1817  --  his father decides to have his children baptized as Christians. This was fortunate indeed, for until 1858 Jews by religion were excluded from Parliament.

1820-1830  --  reign of King George IV. 

1821  --  at age 17 he is articled to a firm of solicitors.

1825 --  loses all of his reckless investments in South American mining.  Financially, he does not recover until well past middle age.

1827 --  publishes anonymously his novel Vivian Grey which lampoons the men with whom he had a business gone wrong. He had persuaded the publisher John Murray, his father's friend, to launch a daily newspaper, the Representative, which soon failed. Unable to pay his promised share of the capital, he had quarreled with Murray and others. Disraeli receives wide criticism when his authorship is discovered. 1827-31  -- nervous breakdown; does little.

1828-1830  --  Tory Duke of Wellington prime minister.

1830-1837  ---  reign of King William IV. 

1830-1834  --  reign of Whig Prime Minister Earl Grey.

1830  --  begins 16 months of travel in the Mediterranean countries and the Middle East. The travels greatly influence his attitudes to India, Egypt and Turkey in the 1870s.

1831  -- his novel, The Young Duke a big hit among the fashionable and celebrity people of his day.  Decides to enter politics.  

1832  --  novel Contarini Fleming.  Fails three times seeking a seat in Buckinghamshire, near Wycombe, where his family had settled.

1834  --  Whig Prime Minister Viscount Melbourne.

1834-1835  -- Sir Robert Peel, conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. 

1835-1841  --  Whig Prime Minister, Viscount Melbourne

1835  --  Disraeli has an open liaison with Henrietta, wife of Sir Francis Sykes.

1837-1901  --  reign of Queen Victoria. 

1837  -- Henrietta is the prototype of the heroine in his novel Henrietta Temple.

1837  --  Disraeli wins a seat for Maidstone in Kent as the Conservative candidate. His first attempt at a speech in the House of Commons is booed down, partly because of his affected mannerisms and foppish dress.   

1839  --  establishes a social position by marrying Mrs. Wyndham Lewis, a wealthy widow.

1841-1846  --  reign of Conservative leader, Sir Robert Peel, as prime minister.  Disraeli is mortified when he does not receive an office in the Cabinet. He becomes increasingly critical of Peel.

1844  --  his novel Coningsby; or The New Generation; the hero is modeled after George Smyth, leader of a group of young Tories, nicknamed Young England.  The new group rejects the pragmatic, humdrum, middle-class Conservatism of Peel for their own romantic, aristocratic, nostalgic, and escapist views.

1845  --  Disraeli finds his chance for political glory when, during the Irish famine, Peel repeals the protective duties on foreign imported grain known as the Corn Laws. As lieutenant to Lord George Bentinck, the nominal leader of the rebels, Disraeli consolidates the opposition to Peel.

1846   --  not able to stop the repeal of the Corn Laws , the rebels put Peel in the minority on another issue and force him to resign in 1846.  The death of Bentinck makes Disraeli the leader of the opposition in the Commons.

1846-1852  -- reign of Whig Prime Minister Lord John Russell

1847  --  is elected to Parliament as member for Buckinghamshire.

1848  --  purchases Hughenden Manor, near High Wycombe. His finances still shaky.

1852  --  Whig government falls. Earl of Derby, leader of the Conservative Party, forms a short-lived minority government; Disraeli chancellor of the Exchequer and his budget brings down the government.

1852-1855  --    reign of Peelite Conservative Prime Minister Earl of Aberdeen

1855-1858  --  reign of Liberal Prime Minister Viscount Palmerson

1858-1859  -- Conservative Earl of Derby again forms a minority government with Disraeli as chancellor of the Exchequer.

1859-1865  --  Liberal Viscount Palmerson is the prime minister.

1859  -- Disraeli sponsors a moderate government reform bill; defeated and Tories out again.

1865-1866  --  Liberal Earl Russell prime minister.

1866-1868  --  Conservative Earl of Derby prime minister. 

1866 --  Tories able to topple the government of the Whig-Liberal leader Lord Russell; Derby forms his third minority government with Disraeli as chancellor of the Exchequer. Helps push forward a reform bill that doubled the existing electorate and was more democratic than most Conservatives had foreseen.

1868  --  Derby retires; Conservative Disraeli becomes prime minister in a caretaker government. Liberals win the election. Disraeli sets a precedent by resigning before Parliament meets.

next 12 years --  party leaders, Disraeli and William E. Gladstone, implacable enemies.

1868-1874  --  Liberal William Gladstone prime minister.

1870  -- political novel Lothair.

1872  --  Disraeli runs the party with a firm hand, putting forth a policy to consolidate the empire, with special emphasis on India, and has a strong foreign policy, especially against Russia.

1872 --  Disraeli's wife dies of cancer; he begins a romantic friendship with two sisters, Lady Bradford and Lady Chesterfield.

1873  --  Gladstone's ministry is defeated and resigns, but Gladstone has to continue because Disraeli refuses to take office.

1874-1880  --  Conservative Disraeli prime minister.  Conservatives win big, but for Disraeli it comes too late.  He ages rapidly, but profits from the friendship of Queen Victoria, a political conservative who disliked Gladstone. He does manage some real social reform:  Public Health Act of 1875; and a series of factory acts preventing the exploitation of labor.

Disraeli buys Suez Canal shares.

1876  --  a bill confers on Queen Victoria the title empress of India. Disraeli's poor health leads him to accept the peerage of the earl of Beaconsfield and becomes leader in the House of Lords.

1880  -- he starts a decline with disaster in Afghanistan, forces slaughtered in South Africa, agricultural distress, and an industrial slump. The Conservatives lose big in the election of 1880.

1880-1885  --  Liberal William Gladstone prime minister.

1880  -- Endymion, a nostalgic political novel about his early career.

1881  --  his health fails rapidly and he dies on April 19 in London.  

 

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