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A World of Fools and Knaves by Mike Walker

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Classic Serial on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 7 July 2013
 
Set in the reign of King Charles I (Julian Rhind-Tutt), this third episode in Radio 4's Stuarts series was the best so far.
 
The title was an intriguing one, prompting us to question precisely who were the "fools" and "knaves" in the action.  At the outset, it seemed as if Queen Henrietta Maria (Vanessa Kirby) had been forced into an unwanted alliance with the foolish King, who was possessed of a stammer very reminiscent of Claudius in Robert Graves' epic sequence of novels, and who found himself catastrophically unable to make decisions.  Rather he relied on the advice of his court favourite Buckingham (Dominic Mafham); a strategy that consistently enraged Parliament.  Henrietta herself found it difficult to cope with the King's constantly changing moods; sometimes it seemed as if the marriage was nothing more than a sham, conducted solely for political rather than amatory purposes.
 
Once Buckingham met a bloody end at the point of a threepenny knife, however, the focus of the play changed.  Henrietta learned that, for all his faults, her husband was a good man - someone whose fundamental belief in human decency seemed incongruous in a world where Parliament did not respect his authority, and where no one, not even Henrietta's presumed best friend Lucy Carlyle (Kate Fleetwood) could be trusted.  Perhaps the King was not such a fool after all; maybe everyone else was foolish to believe that such concepts as goodness and fidelity existed any more.
 
The King's new closest adviser Lord Strafford (Anton Lesser) was in no doubt what would happen to himself and to anyone daring to support the King; they would be arrested by the Parliamentarians and tried on some trumped-up charge.  The events leading up to the Civil War proved one thing above all else; that Parliament was no longer willing to tolerate kingly authority, and would go to extreme lengths to achieve their ends.
 
A World of Fools and Knaves turned out to be a melancholy piece, a meditation on kingship as an anachronistic concept in a society pretending to be "democratic" but remaining determinedly autocratic in its beliefs.  Rhind-Tutt and Kirby gave memorable performances as the ill-matched yet ultimately united Royal couple, trying to maintain a fašade of respectability in the face of a baying chorus of Parliamentary voices.  The directors were Sasha Yevtushenko and Jessica Dromgoole.