Calling all Colin Firth fans. You can now gorge yourself watching this year’s Oscar winner in one of his earliest, and lengthiest, performances.
Back in 1986, when Firth, now 51, was barely shaving, he scored one of his first leading roles in Lost Empires, a seven-part, 410-minute British miniseries. Just last week, it was re-released on a new three-disc DVD set.
The period drama, set in 1913 at its start, is based on a 1965 novel by British author J.B. Priestley in which he recalled the vanished England of his youth. In Empires, Firth plays Richard Herncastle, a shy, 18-year-old from the North Country who signs on to work for his demanding uncle (John Castle), a successful magician performing on the music hall circuit. As he crisscrosses England with his uncle and a group of fellow vaudevillians, Richard comes of age, learning lessons both painful and pleasant.
The series preceded by nine years Firth’s enthralling turn as Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, the Jane Austen TV miniseries that catapulted him to international heartthrob status. He may have been a sapling when he made Empires, but many of the now familiar and fondly regarded Firthian attributes were already on view: the wistful stare, the shy half smile, the handsome countenance and the thick mop of hair.
The miniseries was made by Granada Television and aired stateside on PBS in 1987. At the time, the New York Times’ TV critic gave the show a mixed review, but noted, “Lost Empires is filled with wonderful characters and bravura turns, enough surely to satisfy those with a keen eye for memorable details.”
Among the memorable details: Laurence Olivier turns up in the first episode of Empires as a comic whose career is in steep decline, and Rachel Gurney, who played Lady Marjorie Bellamy in the original Upstairs, Downstairs series (1971-75), pops up as a suffragette in the second.
Are you going to be spending some major time with Colin Firth?