The First Churchills (1969)
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The First Churchills was a BBC serial from 1969 about the life of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough and his wife, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough. It starred John Neville as the duke and Susan Hampshire as the duchess, was written and produced by Donald Wilson, and was directed by David Giles.
The serial presents the lives of John and Sarah Churchill from their meeting in 1673 until a time shortly before the first duke’s death in 1722, and illustrates, along the way, much of the context of contemporary English politics. Like many BBC serials of the era, it was made on a low budget, with sound studio sets, and generally avoided battle and crowd scenes due to inability to stage them in a convincing manner. The series is based on the Marlboroughs’ famous descendant Winston Churchill’s life of his ancestor the Duke, and as such presents a very favourable portrait of the Marlboroughs.
The closing credits theme is the second piece, a Rondeau, of Henry Purcell’s incidental music, composed about 1695, to Aphra Behn’s 1676 play Abdelazer, or The Moor’s Revenge.
It is also notable as being the first program shown on PBS’s long-running Masterpiece series in the United States.