Want to flee the sweeps? Follow 'All the King's Men'

Critic's choice: Television

February 20, 2000|By David Zurawik

If you are looking for a break from all the game-show greed and sweeps excess pouring forth from the television screen this month, Masterpiece Theatre's "All the King's Men" is the ticket.

First of all, it has nothing to do with the Robert Penn Warren novel or Robert Rossen film based on the life of the Louisiana politician, Huey Long.

This one comes from Britain. Set during World War I, it is the poignant story of a company of volunteers from the king's estate at Sandringham that was slaughtered in Turkey at the Battle of Gallipoli.

Most of all, "All the King's Men" is an elegy for the grooms, servants and gardeners in that brigade who believed so truly in God, king and country and were so horribly betrayed by that belief.

But it is also a detective story that tries to explain what actually happened to the volunteers in light of a legend that they marched off into battle and then simply disappeared into a mist that seemed to reach down and lift them safely into heaven.

Maggie Smith is wonderful as the queen mother, who presides over Sandringham.

Just as fine is David Jason, best known to American viewers as Inspector Frost from the mystery series of the same name, as Captain Frank Beck, the king's manager at Sandringham who trains the unit and then leads it into battle. It airs tonight at 9 on MPT (Channels 22 and 67).

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