Picks and Pans Review: The Last King

updated 03/29/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/29/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

A&E (Sun., March 21, 8 p.m. ET)

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Bawdiness ruled in the court of England's Charles II, a 17th-century monarch with a small army of mistresses and illegitimate children. But political and religious disputes also competed for the king's time, along with a plague outbreak and a huge fire that devastated London.

It's hard to cover Charles's tumultuous, 25-year reign in a four-hour film, and I confess I'm glad that the script stresses the sexy stuff. When the king (Rufus Sewell) and his advisers discuss Protestant-Catholic hostility and Parliament's power of the purse, viewers who aren't students of this historical period will find their minds drifting to the question of which privy councillor has the curliest wig.

Sewell is effective as a man whose compassion and tolerance are less constant than his desire to retain power and satisfy his lust. The main female roles compose a well-cast study in contrasts: Diana Rigg as Charles's rigid mother; Shirley Henderson as his mousy, loyal wife; Helen McCrory as his scheming, sexually insatiable mistress-in-chief; and Emma Pierson as the saucy actress who makes the king her biggest fan.


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