Directed by Oliver Parker. BBC made-for-TV-movie, running time: 1 hour. Written by Guy Jenkin. The airdate was Dec 16, 2003 on BBC 2. STEVE COOGAN as Samuel Pepys, LOU DOILLON as Elizabeth de St. Michel, TIM PIGGOTT-SMITH as Lord Shaftesbury, DANNY WEBB as Lord Montagu, CIARAN McMenamin as Will Hewer, ZOE TAPPER as Jane, SALLY ROGERS as Betty Bagwell, ALEX HASSELL as Batty, MIRANDA RAISON as Deb Willett. Nat plays King Charles II.


Plot summary

What we see is half a life and over 90 diaries pressed in one hour of TV-movie. The life itself isn't narrated in a straight forward way, there are lots of flashbacks and it does take a bit of background to understand the times and life of Samuel Pepys. You'll learn that he was a man who had to fight for his place in society. He succeeded by speaking out clearly whilst others preferred to remain silent in the presence of the king. And that he had great affection for his wife and the rest of the females in his life. We'll get a feeling for his era and the problems that people were facing. You'll get a picture of these days, as well as you'd get it reading the diaries.

General Review

This drama aired soon after BBC One's "Charles II: The Power and the Passion", which covered the same historical period. And there was a whole half-documentary series airing about Pepys' diaries... so this programme has to be read as a sort of side-kick of those programmes. But now back to this one-hour drama itself. In terms of budget and of programme space it can't help but compare unfavourably: whereas "Charles II" afforded an impressive recreation of the Great Fire of London, "The Private Life of Samuel Pepys" gives us a close-up on the face of Pepys (Steve Coogan) as he looks up at the fire and declares, "The whole of London is ablaze!" He then turns to camera and adds, "You'll have to take my word for it."

It's a rather confused attempt to give the diaries and the life of Pepys a shape, however, seemingly unsure whether it should aim for drama or comedy. As a drama, it fails because it lacks sufficient depth: it tries to press one of the longest works in English literature into an hour of film and fails to find the narrative thread to draw us through. I am almost certain there isn't one: this is, after all, the story of a life and readers have mainly enjoyed Pepys' diaries for the incidental details, so the work would perhaps be better formatted as a kind of long-running soap opera.

On the other hand, as a comedy it simply isn't funny enough. A very good scene halfway through in which Pepys incompetently tries to establish whether his wife is having an affair demonstrates the potential of the subject matter, sadly unfulfilled. More often the script tries to slip the humour in subtly and falls flat. A broader approach, using the compression of the diaries to make the story seem frenetic rather than rushed, might have been more effective.

Nat Review

Unfortunately you won't see much of Nat in this one. He portrays King Charles II, a proven weak historical character. His king is a smug, snooty and arrogant aristocrat who doesn't give a damn for his country or the people. Feeling free from any kind of responsibility at all, he simply assigns his "servants" to certain tasks in order to take care of them. And - Good Lord - don't bother his royal highness with details... just watch those gestures - a hoot! The characterisation is delightful and it is fascinating to watch Nat giving life to an aristocratic idiot! All stereotypes that Thomas Lynley is trying to avoid, Charles II relishes in. Well done, I would have liked to see more.... the scenes I saw were fun! One more facet to Nat's display of ability to portray all kinds of characters! Haven't seen a "jerk" for quite a while....


Aired once on BBC, no VHS or DVD announced so far

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