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24 September 2014
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Charles II – The Power & The Passion

Starts Sunday 16 November, 9.00pm, BBC ONE

Press pack available


"Charles II – The Power & The Passion is set in the corridors and bedrooms of power, and takes place during a pivotal moment in our history, when the conflict between monarch and state is at a crossroads," says Jane Tranter, BBC Controller of Drama Commissioning.


"Charles is charming, devious and manipulative by turns, and he presides over an extended, dysfunctional family like a modern patriarch. He has no one to trust – even his best friend, Buckingham, betrays him – and his relationship with Parliament is stretched to breaking-point. He rules by instinct and his instinct is to survive."

Rufus Sewell stars as the King in this ambitious and original take on the reign of Charles II.

The focus of Charles II is the King's Court, his squabbling family and his glamorous mistresses – from the high-born and promiscuous Barbara Villiers (Helen McCrory), through folk heroine and sex symbol of the day Nell Gwynn (Emma Pierson), to the French spy Louise de Kéroualle (Mélanie Thierry).

Written by award-winning screenwriter Adrian Hodges, whose credits include David Copperfield and The Lost World, the four-part drama penetrates the heart of the charismatic Monarch who was deeply traumatised by the execution of his father by Oliver Cromwell in 1649.

The cast also includes: Diana Rigg as Henrietta Maria, Charles's volatile, unforgiving mother; Rupert Graves as his closest friend and rival, the Duke of Buckingham; Martin Freeman as Lord Shaftesbury, one of Charles's most contentious ministers; Ian McDiarmid as the elder statesman Sir Edward Hyde; Charlie Creed-Miles as James, Charles's brother; and Alice Patten, who plays the demure Lady Frances Stewart, the young virgin who manages to escape Charles's sexual advances.

"I found the story of Charles II an incredibly colourful, sexy and lively period of history," says Hodges.

"Huge themes of power, compromise, passion and betrayal run strongly through his reign.

"It's a period that feels astonishingly contemporary to me, and that's one of the reasons why I found it so compelling. None of the issues that preoccupied him seem distant, and many of them have a disturbingly contemporary resonance."

Producer Kate Harwood says: "The return of Charles II restored the Crown in 1660. This moment was a fulcrum of English history: it was the end of a certain kind of monarchy and the birth of a new one."

Often known as the "Merry Monarch", Charles made the most of being King of England. He surrounded himself with witty courtiers and kept many beautiful mistresses.

The extravagance of his reign was born of his penniless and powerless years in exile after his father's execution.

"Charles lived through the most appalling experiences while still barely more than a child. He lost his father to the executioner, he was very nearly captured and killed himself, and he was the victim of vicious political intrigue," continues Hodges.

"It all went to make him a much more complex and fascinating character than the traditional view of the witty, womanising monarch. He was those things but he had a much darker side as well. He understood the true cost of power and what its pursuit does to people.

"Charles II was an exceptionally clever man, a serious thinker, a devious politician, a considerate husband but also a serial adulterer; a man who was remarkably tolerant of religious differences – it was a frighteningly bigoted age in that respect," says Hodges.

"It was these contradictions that I found so fascinating and which make him a hero or an anti-hero, depending on which way you want to look at it."

On Charles's triumphant return, he found a nation torn apart by years of bloody civil war and dulled by the repressions of a Puritan Regime.

For the first few years, the glamour of King and Court rejuvenated the nation, but his popularity waned and the Great Plague of 1665 and the Fire of London in 1666 tore into people's morale.

"The period is known not just for the sex and bawdiness, but also for the intrigue of a highly politicised court, for the vividness of its leading characters and, importantly, for being a hugely pivotal moment in our nation's story. We wanted to make a drama out of that history," says Harwood.

"Although I have used the historical background as carefully as I can, I am not claiming that this is exactly how things were," adds Hodges.

"In reinventing a period of history there are certain short cuts that have to be taken, characters lost or changed, chronology adapted. The story is a drama first and foremost. I have taken certain liberties to make it work because I am a dramatic writer, not a historian."

Director Joe Wright says: "I wanted to create something that was accessible to everyone and something which had personal, emotional resonances for the audience at whatever age they are and wherever they come from.

"To me, the story is about the struggle between being a good and decent man and being a king. We see the world through Charles's eyes and feel his emotions with him," continues Wright.

"He is not a heroic character who never does anything wrong, he is flawed. He's human and that's what's important."

Laura Mackie, executive producer, says: "Charles II has been directed with real verve, energy and attack, so that you feel that you're part of that Court.

"I think Joe is an incredibly emotional director and that's why there is this intensity and a sense of being there that you wouldn't get with some other directors.

"Because Joe had never done a piece like this before, he had no preconceptions. We have something which is beautiful and modern without trying to look modern – a piece which is seeped in detail and looks absolutely stunning."

Charles II was shot in the Czech Republic on location and in the studio. Seven weeks of the 12 week shoot were spent on a huge, 14 room composite set, where the design team created the interior of the Palace of Whitehall.

Two further weeks were spent on an exterior set, built into the ruins of a castle outside Prague, where the streets of London were constructed.

"We had to build 17th-century London and Whitehall because it largely doesn't exist anymore. What we were trying to do was to create a world that wasn't entirely naturalistic, but instead was impressionistic, almost like a fairly-tale setting," says Wright.

"And within this world, what we wanted was somebody who could completely dominate the screen," says Harwood.

"You should be left in no doubt as to who was king. Rufus has that presence. He also has charisma, physical energy and a gentleness which made him perfect as Charles. He is powerfully good looking but sensual, sexy and vulnerable with it."

"Charles was an extraordinarily charming, good-humoured and tolerant man, who was one thing to his women and another to his ministers," adds Hodges.

"He was multi-faceted. Rufus not only looks like him, but has this great ability in his acting to show charm, humour and generosity of spirit. He can convey the complexity of the character as well as warmth. He is also very sexy, which is what Charles was," says Hodges.

Intrigue, sex, politics and power dominate the drama. Charles II was a ruler with a healthy appetite for beautiful, self-confident women.

Helen McCrory plays Barbara Villiers
When the uninhibited Barbara Villiers (later Countess of Castlemaine) became Charles's mistress, she bore him several illegitimate children and used her sexual power to try to influence and control him. She even managed to persuade him to appoint her as lady-in-waiting to his bewildered but spirited wife, Catharine.

"She is one of the most fabulous characters of this period," says Harwood of Barbara Villiers. "Helen McCrory's performance is captivating, sexy, outrageous and brilliant."

One of the most important women in Charles's life, however, was his wife, Catharine of Braganza (played by Shirley Henderson). She was unable to provide Charles with a legitimate child who could be his heir, which devastated them both, but he chose not to divorce her and seek an heir with a new wife, though under pressure to do so from both Parliament and Court.

"One of the slowest-growing relationships is with Catharine," says Harwood. "In some ways, by the time Charles dies, we find that she really was the love of his life, certainly his closest friend."

Alongside Adrian Hodges's four-part drama Charles II – The Power & The Passion, BBC ONE is showing two accompanying documentaries.

Cromwell – Warts And All tells the story of Oliver Cromwell and uncovers the real reason why he wanted to destroy Charles I.

The Boy Who Would Be King gives an insight into the early years of Charles II and reveals the dramatic events that shaped this complex and contradictory character.

Charles II – The Power & The Passion and the two accompanying documentaries are part of a range of programmes this autumn for BBC ONE which offers audiences an opportunity to consider new perspectives on historic, social and personal situations.

They follow Pompeii – The Last Day and Colosseum – Rome's Arena Of Death, which were shown in October.

Directed by Joe Wright (Bodily Harm) and produced by Kate Harwood, Charles II – The Power & The Passion is a BBC and A&E Network production for BBC ONE.

The executive producers are Laura Mackie (BBC) and Delia Fine (A&E).

BBCi provides an accompanying website at

Charles II – The Power & The Passion starts Sunday 16 November, 9.00pm, BBC ONE

Press pack

Charles II - The Power & The Passion press pack is available below in PDF format, as a complete pack or in sections.

You may require Adobe Acrobat Software to read PDF files which can be obtained here.

Full Charles II - The Power & The Passion press pack (890 KB)

Cast and crew (41 KB)

Cast interviews (400 KB)

The women of the Court (260 KB)

Additional cast information (97 KB)

Transforming the Czech Republic into 17th-century England
(197 KB)

Synopses (137 KB)

The Mistresses of Charles II & 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Charles II and his Reign (113 KB)

Charles II (1630-1685) (79 KB)

Family tree (60 KB)

Key events 1645-1685 (41 KB)

Accompanying documentaries (98 KB)

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