Reviewer: Charity Bishop
To this day, historians debate what became of the missing princes in the tower. It remains one of the greatest mysteries surrounding the Bloody Tower, in the famous Tower of London buildings. The two heirs to the throne later governed by Richard III were taken there for their "protection" to await their coronation -- and were never seen again. This docudrama recounts the controversy thereafter.
A handsome blonde, blue-eyed young man has appeared claiming to be the missing Duke of York. Gathering forces both in Ireland and Scotland, and severely damaging potential alliances between England and Spain due to his threat to Henry VII's rule, Richard (Mark Umbers) is hunted down and brought to the Tower to be interrogated by his majesty's closest associates. Most of his memories of his imprisonment are hazy, but he both looks enough like the missing prince and is sincere enough in his stories that suspicion that he may be the rightful king has the Tudors concerned. The man chosen for his interrogation is Dr. Argentine (John Castle), who was personal physician to the boys before their disappearance. Writing down the account is the ambitious but quiet Thomas More, and in attendance is the Spanish ambassador (Nicholas Rowe).
Enough reasonable doubt is created to involve Richard's sister, Queen Katharine (Nadia Cameron-Blakey) in the proceedings. She is astounded with how like her brother the man is, and remains convinced that he is speaking the truth, a fact that troubles King Henry (Paul Hilton). If it is indeed Richard, he is the rightful heir to the Plantagenet throne, and Elizabeth would have him step down, but to do so would endanger their sons. What unfolds is one of the most fascinating and equally gruesome single events in history, as we learn the truth behind the appearance of a usurper, and what his threat meant to the Tudor line.
This was produced as a docudrama rather than a documentary or a straight drama, so it is a blend of both. As a result, the production values in terms of filming are rather shoddy. The camera angles are not that interesting and the finished result has a rather grainy look to it that I assume was meant, in order to make it look old. More exasperating are photographs used in the narration instead of flashbacks, which would have been much more interesting to look at. (The boys actually playing on the green, rather than a photograph of them doing so.) However, once I realized that was the flow of the production (along with occasional "information" text to inform us of certain historical facts or rumors), I really was able to become involved with the story and it kept me in suspense for the eventual outcome. Was this man really an immaculate imposter, or the true Duke of Richmond? What happened to the princes?
By no means does this story provide all of the answers, because even though the bodies of both boys are presumed to have been found two hundred years later, there is not yet any DNA evidence to prove their identities. There were quite a few things that I loved about this film. I have never seen Elizabeth Plantagenet depicted before, and it amazed me how many visual links were drawn between her and her famous granddaughter, Elizabeth I. The acting was also extremely good, much more so than I anticipated from such a low-budget production. The music was also memorable. Content-wise there is not much to be concerned about. The opening scene has one of the boys being smothered with a pillow. This is shown in later flashbacks as Richard describes his brother's death. There is a photograph of a boy's bloody mouth and suspicion that he may have been poisoned. There is a little crudeness in the fact that several astrologers are shown studying the king's bowel movement in order to predict his future fate.
When asked to give an impression of his father, Richard replies that he would f**k anything alive, and eat anything dead. Elizabeth later repeats this in whispered amusement. More disturbing is when two guards come in to beat Richard to a bloody pulp. We see nothing but the clubs being lifted, but the result is that his face is so bloodied and bruised that he is later unrecognizable. There's an extreme close up of a man's face as he is being hanged. In some respects, the eventual outcome is slightly disturbing but it did make me curious about the princes, enough to read what little is suspected of their eventual fate. I suspect viewers of this production, like me, will have the curiosity peaked enough to become fascinated.