The First Churchills is a BBC serial from 1969 about the life of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, and his wife, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough. It stars John Neville as the duke and Susan Hampshire as the duchess, was written and produced by Donald Wilson, and was directed by David Giles. It is notable as being the first programme shown on PBS's long-running Masterpiece series in the United States. Wilson and Giles were fresh from their success in writing and directing The Forsyte Saga, which also starred Susan Hampshire and Margaret Tyzack.
The serial presents the lives of John and Sarah Churchill from their meeting in 1673 until a time shortly after the death of Queen Anne in 1714, 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 because they were unable to stage them in a convincing manner. The series is based on a book written by the Marlboroughs' most famous descendant, Winston Churchill's Marlborough: His Life and Times, and as such presents a very favourable portrait of the Marlboroughs.
The serial depicts most of the important political figures of the day.
The theme for the opening titles of each episode is the "Trumpet tune (Warlike consort)" from Act V of Henry Purcell's opera King Arthur. The theme for the closing credits of each episode 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, perhaps better known as the theme used by Benjamin Britten in The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra.
The serial has been released on DVD, distributed by Acorn Media UK.
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