Fall of Eagles (1974) (TV miniseries) 

 

 

Director:  Stuart Burge, et. al.

Starring:  see the IMDb website

 

Some Cast:

Russian Characters:

Tony Jay .... Tsar Alexander III, Charles Kay .... Tsar Nicholas II, Gayle Hunnicutt .... Tsarina Alexandra, Michael Aldridge .... Rasputin, Frederick Alexander .... Tsarevich Alexis, John Phillips .... Grand Duke Nicholas, Kenneth Colley .... Father Gapon, Michael Bryant .... Ratchkowsky, Hugh Burden .... Protopopov, Patrick Stewart .... Lenin, Michael Kitchen .... Trotsky, Jim Norton .... Kerensky

Austrian Characters:

Miles Anderson .... Young Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary, Laurence Naismith .... Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria-Hungary, Peter Woodthorpe .... Archduke Franz-Ferdinand, Pamela Brown .... Archduchess Sophia, Susan Tracy .... Crown Princess Stephanie of Austria,  Ann Castle .... Grand Duchess Sergei, Rachel Gurney .... 'Sisi', Empress Elizabeth of Austria, Diane Keen .... Young 'Sisi', Empress Elizabeth of Austria, Irene Hamilton .... Baroness Vetsera

German Characters:

Maurice Denham .... Kaiser Wilhelm I, Colin Baker .... Crown Prince Willie, Barry Foster .... Willy (Kaiser Wilhelm II), Denis Lill .... 'Fritz', Prince Frederick William/Frederick III, Gemma Jones . . . . Princess Vicky, Curd Jürgens .... Otto von Bismarck, Michael Bates .... Von Ludendorff, Marius Goring .... Von Hindenburg, John Robinson .... Muller

French Characters:

John Bennett .... Georges Clemenceau

English Characters:

Tom Criddle .... Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, Mavis Edwards .... Older Queen Victoria of England, Perlita Neilson .... Queen Victoria of England, Frank Thornton .... Prince Albert of England, Gemma Jones . . . . Princess Vicky, Derek Francis .... Edward VII of England

Others:

Michael Hordern .... Narrator

 

 

This miniseries is very talky with little actual action.  But if you can stick it out, the chapters are very interesting and reveal a great deal of history.  The miniseries deals with the fall of the Habsburg (Austria), Hohenzollern (Germany) and Romanov (Russia) dynasties in WWI.  Unfortunately, the fall of another monarch, that of the Ottoman Empire of Turkey, is not covered.

 

Disc One:

Story One:  Death Waltz. The inner struggles among the Habsburg rulers of Austria-Hungary, beginning in 1848.  (A side plot was the push for Hungarian independence from Austria.)  The Emperor's powerful mother gave her new daughter-in-law a very hard time.  In rebellion, the Queen sympathized with Hungarian ambitions for independence. 

Story Two: The English Princess.   The inner struggle among the Hohenzollern rulers of Prussia (between son, married to the politically liberal daughter of Queen Victoria of England and father King Wilhelm I), and the role of Bismarck (eventual unifier of the 25 German states). 

Story Three:  The Honest Broker. The continuing story of the Hohenzollern rulers of Prussia and the role of Bismarck.   The Crown Prince continues to try to have some influence on government, but is blocked by his father King Wilhelm I and Bismarck.  As his father nears death, the ambitions of the Crown Prince are frustrated by his own poor health, the plans of Bismarck for the future of Germany and the political ambitions of his own son (the future King Wilhelm II).  

Story Four: Requiem for a Crown Prince.      the story of the death of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria.  The story was quite a scandal.  The Crown Prince had had an extramarital affair with Madame Vetsera.  Later he became involved with the 17 year old daughter, Baroness Mary Vetsera.  The story starts at the hunting lodge Mayerling.  As the hunters gathered at the lodge, the servants try to rouse the Crown Prince, but find the bedroom locked and the Crown Prince non-responsive. The mystery starts to unfold as the door is axed open.    (See Mayerling (1936)  for more historical background.)

 

Disc Two

Story One:  The Last Tsar.  1894.  There was no reforms forthcoming from the supreme autocrat Tsar Alexander III making for an unhappy nation.  This story deals with the fight between the Tsar and the Tsarina on the one hand and their son, Nicholas, over who the latter should marry.  Nicholas is a frivolous young man with a ballet dancer for a girlfriend.  But the Tsar and his wife have another in mind.  But Nicholas fights to marry his choice of a future bridge among the nobility.  We meet Lenin and his future wife working for a revolution in Russia.  What a contrast in character between the future Tsar and the very serious Lenin.   

Story Two.  Absolute Beginners.  This story deals Tsar Nicholas and Lenin.  The Minister of the Interior tries to warn the Tsar of the importance of winning the war against the revolutionists.  The Tsar, however, does not pay that much attention to the matter.  Attention then switches primarily to Lenin and his organizing a revolutionary party.  It becomes pretty clear that Lenin is not going to be a practitioner of democracy.  Trotsky introduced.     

Story Three:  Dearest Nicky.  Cousins Wilhelm II of Prussia and Nicholas of Russia are both presented as a bit foolish in character.  The Tsarina shows herself as superstitious and overly religious.  She is very pushy and tends to henpeck her husband.  She even tries to bully the church, trying to push a candidate for sainthood in the name of the Tsar.  The Tsar is so far out-of-touch that he is shocked at the Japanese attack on Port Arthur on the eastern coast of Russia (Russo-Japanese War, 1904-5). The couple have a boy, who turns out to have hemophilia. The Tsar is adamantly against any constitutional reform, which brings revolution closer.    

Story Four:  The Appointment.  This is primarily about the onslaught of unrest among the Russian population, including marches, strikes and mutinies, and the defensive response of the monarchy: counter-revolutionary actions.  The appointment is that of the head of the counter-revolutionary arm of the government: Ratchkowsky.  (Part of the counter-revolutionary measures is the assassination of activist leaders.) The Tsar finally makes some concessions that buy him nine years of relative peace. 

 

Disc Three.

Story One:  Dress Rehearsal.  This chapter shows how the balance of powers among the European nations had fallen into a diplomatic arrangement that would eventually lead to world war given the proper spark.  The foreign minister of Russia wants to see the Dardanelles open to his country so that Russia would have access to the Mediterranean Sea from the Black Sea.  Knowing this would be controversial in his own country, he secretly approaches the foreign secretary of Austria to cut a deal:  Russia would look the other way on Austria's annexing Bosnia-Herzegovina (which officially belonged to the Ottoman Empire, but was occupied by Austria) in return for Austria looking the other way on Russia opening the Dardanelles belonging to the Ottomans.  In the ensuing scandal, the nations, along the lines that would exist at the start of WWI.  All the talking is a bit boring, but still interesting.  

Story Two:  Indian Summer of an Emperor.  Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria is an old man who has been emperor for some 60 years.  This chapter deals with the emperor and his heir the Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand.  Their relationship is not close with the heir being very impatient to become the next emperor.  There is a scene where the Kaiser and the Arch Duke compose a letter to be revealed after the death of the emperor.  Of course, history intervenes with the assassination of the Arch Duke and his wife in Sarajevo.  And World War I is just around the corner.  

Story Three:  Tell the King the Sky is Falling. Tsar Nicholas of Russia learns that Germany has declared war on Russia.  He is very disappointed in his cousin, saying that the man was never sincere.  And the sky is falling on Russia.  Russia loses 4 million men in a very short time attempting to stop  German military advances.  The Tsar shows his incompetence by making all the wrong political decisions: he dismisses the Duma, takes control over the command of the army, takes too much advice from his wife (who in turn takes too much advice from Rasputin), and he appoints all the wrong men to office.  And by the end of the chapter, the president of the Duma finally tells the Tsar that yes the sky is falling. 

Story Four: The Secret War.  The last story deals with the Russian Revolution, the triumph of Lenin and the fall of Tsar Nicholas. The story begins two and a half years into the First World War.  The war had reached a stalemate with about 12 million casualties on both sides.  The Kaiser is now sickly and begins to realize that WWI has gotten totally out of control --  it had gone far past what any of the emperors could have realized before the start of the war.   The German generals now search for an end to war on the eastern front and this to be accomplished by a revolution in Russia and the withdrawal of that nation from the war.  The Kaiser is at first shocked, but the seriousness of the German situation makes him come around.  Rasputin murdered.  At the Duma, socialist Alexander Kerensky demands that the Tsar step down.  The Tsar himself goes on blindly and stubbornly refusing to come to terms with a changed world.  A deal is worked out with Germany to transport the Bolshevisks (Lenin among them) across Germany and back to Russia so they might take over the coming revolution and remove Russia from the war.  By order of the Duma, the Tsar is forced to abdicate the throne.  Kerensky sets up a new government.   

 

Disc Four.  END GAME.   The last chapter in the miniseries.  Lenin has taken control of the government of Russia by October, 1917.  Russia takes itself out of  WWI.  The Americans enter the war.  Emperor Franz Joseph dies and is replaced by the mediocre Emperor Karl who wants to sue for peace as soon as possible.  The story centers on the final days of the German war effort and the slow and reluctant realization that Germany was losing the war and that the monarchy would come to an end.   This is a good chapter because it feels good to see the Germans go through the painful process of adjusting to defeat.  Kaiser Wilhelm is amazingly deaf, dumb and blind about reality, but so was his cousin Tsar Nicholas.  The technology of mass death in military arms had so greatly increased that the old autocratic monarchs were just overwhelmed by the massive consequences of 24 million casualties, including destruction of their young men, ruined economies and shortages of food and even starvation.  

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

Hohenzollern family and Bismarck of Prussia (and the unification of Germany) and the destruction of the Habsburg family of Austria

Prussia becomes the dominant land power in Europe. 

 

AUSTRIA & PRUSSIA

 

1786  --  death of King Frederick the Great of Prussia; succeeded by Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia (1786-1797).

1797  --  Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia  (1797-1840).

1815  --  birth of Otto von Bismarck in Schönhausen, his family's estate in the old Prussian province Mark Brandenburg (now Saxony-Anhalt) west of Berlin.

1832  --  at age 17, Bismarck attended the Georg August University of Göttingen, but for only a year.

1833  --  Bismarck enrolled in the Friedrich Wilhelm University of Berlin.  He held some minor administrative positions in Aachen and Potsdam.  He was bored with his work so he concentrated instead on mixing with "high society".

1835-1848   --  reign of Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria.

1839  --  death of Bismarck's mother.  Bismarck then managed his family's estates in Pomerania. 

1840  --  death of Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia.  Succession of King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia (1840-1861). 

c. 1847  --  Bismarck returned to Schönhausen.  He participated in local politics.

1847  --  Bismarck married noblewoman Johanna von Puttkamer.  They had three children.   

1847  --  Bismarck made a representative to the newly created Prussian legislature. He believed that the monarch had a divine right to rule and soon became known as a royalist and reactionary spokesman. 

1848  --  revolutionary fever swept many European nations. 

1848 (March)  --  a revolution in Prussia overwhelmed King Friedrich Wilhelm IV.  He agreed to liberal concessions, such as promising to set up a constitution, the unification of Prussia and other German states, and the appointment of liberal Ludolf Camphausen as Minister-President.

1848 (end of the year)  --  the Prussian monarch took back control from the liberals.  (The liberals had broken into fighting internal factions.)  A constitution was granted, but it was weak in concessions. 

1848-1916  --  reign of Emperor Francis Joseph I of Austria.  He ruled for 68 years, the second longest reign of European history. He was the oldest son of Archduke Franz Karl (younger brother and heir of Emperor Ferdinand I) and his wife Princess Sophie of Bavaria. 

1849  -- Bismarck elected to the lower house of the new Prussian legislature. Bismarck opposed the unification of Germany, fearing that Prussia would loose it independence.

1852-1560  --  Friedrich Wilhelm IV appointed Bismarck Prussia's envoy to the diet of the German Confederation in Frankfurt.  In this period, Bismarck became less reactionary.  And he came to believe in the necessity of German unification. largely because the German states needed to countervail  Austria's growing power.

1854  --  Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria married Duchess Elisabeth in Bavaria (nicknamed Sisi" or "Sissi"). They had an unhappy marriage.  They lost their first daughter, the infant Sophie.  Their only son, Crown Prince Rudolf, died (allegedly of suicide) in 1889 in the infamous Mayerling episode with his young mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera.  The Empress was stabbed to death by an anarchist in 1898.  Franz Joseph never recovered from the loss of his wife. 

1857  --  at age 17, Princess Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise, nicknamed Vicky, (eldest daughter of Queen Victoria of England) married 24 year old Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia. (His father was a younger brother of King Frederick Wilhelm IV; his father became King Wilhelm I of Prussia.)  Her husband would later become emperor of Germany.  (He died of throat cancer after a three-month reign.)

1858  --  Friedrich Wilhelm IV suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed and mentally disabled. His brother, Wilhelm, took over as Regent. 

1858-1870  --  Three men transformed Prussia:  Bismarck got a more important post when he became Prussia's ambassador to Russia; Helmuth von Moltke became the new Chief of Staff for the Prussian army; and Albrecht von Roon was appointed Prussian Minister of War. 

1858-1862  --  Bismarck served in St. Petersburg for four years, during which time he befriended the Russian Prince Gorchakov.

1859  --  Austria versus the armies of the House of Savoy and Napoleon III in the Austro-Sardinian War of 1859.  Austria lost. 

1861  --  the Regent became King Wilhelm I  of Prussia upon his brother's death. He ruled from 1861 to 1888. 

1862  --  Bismarck sent to Paris as Prussian ambassador to France.

1862  --  the Prussian parliament (the Diet) refused to authorize funding for a proposed re-organization of the army. King Wilhelm I  recalled Bismarck to Prussia to deal with the growing stalemate.

1862  (Sept. 23)  --  Wilhelm I appointed Bismarck Minister-President and Foreign Minister.  Bismarck just applied the previous year's budget and tax collection continued for four more years.

1863  --  Wilhelm I dismissed the Diet after it said it could no longer work with Bismarck.  Bismarck followed by restricting freedom of the press.

The Crown Prince, Friedrich Wilhelm (the future King Friedrich III) opposed Bismarck's restrictions.  Bismarck became very unpopular.

1863 (October)  --  a liberal coalition won over two-thirds of the seats in the House of Deputies.  Bismarck continued in power because King Wilhelm I was not about to get rid of this powerful and useful politician 

Bismarck was extremely influential in bring about German unification.  In a speech he said that "great questions of the day will not be decided by speeches and the resolutions of majorities — that was the great mistake from 1848 to 1849 — but by blood and iron."  And it was blood and iron that he used to make Prussia the most powerful and dominant component of the new Germany.

1863 (November)  --  King Frederick VII of Denmark and a dispute arose over the succession to the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein.  Denmark's new king, King Christian IX, claimed the duchies, but was opposed by German duke Frederick von Augustenburg. 

Bismarck denounced the Danes.  Together with Austria, he issued an ultimatum for Christian IX to return Schleswig. 

When the Danes refused, Austria and Prussia invaded, commencing the Second War of Schleswig.  The Germans won the war.  Prussia received Schleswig, while Austria got Holstein.

1866  --  when Austria tried to get a better deal on the Schleswig-Holstein question, Bismarck sent Prussian troops to occupy Holstein. This started the Austro-Prussian War.  The Prussians won.  (They scored a crushing victory at the Battle of Königgrätz,)  The Treaty of Prague dissolved the German Confederation; Prussia annexed Schleswig, Holstein, Frankfurt, Hanover, Hesse-Kassel and Nassau; and Austria promised not to intervene in German affairs.

1866  --  the liberals lost their large majority in the House of Deputies.

1867  --  the "compromise" of February 1867  established the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary. 

1867  --  Prussia and several other north German states joined the North Confederation with King Wilhelm as President and Bismarck as Chancellor.

Bismarck now turned his attention to France. He was convinced that war with France would unite the German states under the King of Prussia. 

1870  --  Bismarck supported a member of the House of Hohenzollern to ascend to the Spanish throne.  French Emperor, Napoleon III, fearing Prussia, opposed any such notion.  To lure France into war, Bismarck then published the Ems Dispatch (a re-edited version of a conversation between King Wilhelm and the French ambassador to Prussia.) 

1870  --  the start of the Franco-Prussian War.  The German states united and provided a great success over the French.   Moltke commanded the German won one victory after another in less than one month (August 7 to September 1).   France had to pay a large indemnity and surrender the territory of  Alsace-Lorraine. 

1871 (January 18)  --  Bismarck worked to make sure that the German states were united under King Wilhelm I of Germany. The 25 states retained their autonomy.  

1871  --  Bismarck raised to the rank of Prince.  He was also named Imperial Chancellor of the German Empire, thereby giving him complete control of both domestic and foreign policy.

Bismarck believed that the Roman Catholic Church (concentrated in southern Germany) had too much political power and so he began a Kulturkampf

1871  --  the Catholic Department of the Prussian Ministry of Culture abolished.

1872  --  Jesuits expelled from Germany.

1873  --  Albrecht von Roon was appointed to be Minister-President of Prussia.  But, because of ill heatlth, Roon soon resigned and Bismarck once again became Minister-President.

1878  --  Bismarck abandoned the Kulturkampf. 

1878  --  fearing the rise of socialism, Bismarck instituted some anti-socialist laws.  But the strength of the socialists continued to grow.

1883  --  Bismarck, The Chancellor, passed some paternalistic labor reforms to take the wind of the the sails of the socialists. These reforms still did not make Bismarck's conservative government popular with the working class.

early 1880s  --  German imperialism in Africa.

1888  --  death of King Wilhelm IHis son became King Friedrich III of Germany (husband of Queen Victoria's oldest daughter).  He soon died and was replaced in turn by his own son, King Wilhelm II (1888-1918)

1889  --  death of  the only son of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, Crown Prince Rudolf, (allegedly of suicide) in the infamous Mayerling episode with his young mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera.  The new heir presumptive to the Austrian, Bohemian and Hungarian thrones was Archduke Karl Ludwig, eldest surviving brother of the emperor.

After the death of the Crown Prince, the marriage of Franz Josef and Elisabeth collapsed completely.  The empress spend much of her time abroad, particularly in England and Ireland.

1890  --  Wilhelm II forced 75-year old Bismarck to resign.

1896  --  death of Archduke Karl Ludwig.  The heir presumptive now became Karl Ludwig's oldest son, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. 

1898  --  death of Bismarck.  

1898  --  death of the Empress of Austria (wife of Emperor Franz Joseph) at the hands of an anarchist. 

1914  --  the heir to the Austrian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo, leading to WWI. 

1916  -- death of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria. 

1916-1918  --  reign of Emperor Charles I of Austria


RUSSIA

 

1845  -- birth of the future Czar Alexander III at St. Petersburg, the second son of the future Czar Alexander II..

1855-1881   --  reign of soft-hearted, liberal Czar Alexander II

Since his elder brother Nicholas was assumed to be the heir apparent, the future Alexander III did not receive any extra-special education and training for the position of ruler of Russia. 

1856 --  peace recognizes the integrity of Turkey.

1861 -- the Russian serfs were not emancipated until this year; serfdom had become uneconomic. The commune took the place of the proprietor.

1865  -- death of elder brother Nicholas, makes Alexander the heir apparent to his father Czar Alexander II.

1866  --  young Alexander weds Princess Dagmar of Denmark. 

1867  --  Russia sells Alaska to U.S.

1868   --  Russia occupies Samarkand.

1870  --  in the Franco-Prussian War, Czar Alexander II sympathized with the Prussians (while son Alexander rooted for the French). 

1877   --  Russia proclaims war on Turkey, invades Rumania & Bulgaria, starting the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878) .  The future Czar Alexander III fought in the Turks in the future Bulgaria where he commanded the left wing of the invading army.

1878   --  peace.  Because the Russians had been allied with Prussia, Russia felt somewhat betrayed by Bismarck of Prussia who made an alliance with Austria to counteract Russian power. 

1881 -- Alexander II killed by a band of Nihilists; succeeded by Alexander III (to 1894).  The new Czar made it clear that he was going to strengthen, not weaken, the autocratic powers of the Czardom.  In the area of foreign relations, he avoided an open rupture with Germany.  For a time, he even revived the Three Emperors' Alliance (Russia, Germany, Austria).

1887  --  the Nihilists planned the assassination  of Czar Alexander III.  One of the conspirators, Alexander Ulyanov (brother of V. I. Lenin) was captured and hanged on May 5. 

1894  --  death of Czar Alexander III.  He was succeeded by his eldest son Czar Nicholas II.

 1894 -- Nicholas II (to1917), the last of the tsars

The failure to adjust willingly to the currents of the times and the attempt to preserve autocratic rule produced unparalleled discontent in Russia.

1897  --  Russia occupies Port Arthur.

1904-05 -- Russo-Japanese War.

1904 --  Japan seizes Port Arthur and occupies Seoul; Russians defeated at Lidoyang, China.

1905 (January 22) --  St. Petersburg demonstrations brutally crushed.  Unarmed, peaceful demonstrators marched to the Winter Palace to present a petition to the Tsar were gunned down by Imperial guards. Father Gapon organized the march.  Gapon was paid by the Okhranka (the Tsarist secret police), which made Gapon an agent provocateur. 

1905 --  Russia loses the war with Japan; Treaty of Portsmouth with Theodore Roosevelt's help.

1905 --  general strike.

1905 --  sailors' mutiny on battleship Potemkin.

1905 -- in the October Manifesto, the Tsar issues a manifesto that promises full civil liberties at once, and a legislative assembly or Duma to be elected by universal suffrage.

1914-1918  --  World War I. 

1917 -- Russian Revolution. 

 

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