Cooking up a story about 10th-century royal teenager Wenceslas (Jonathan Brandis) out of Czech legend, scripter JamesAndrew Hall involves the future king and saint with a castle romance, a wicked stepmother, intrigue and derring-do. The blandness mars events, but the fitful account may please the “family fare” trade.
Filmed in the Czech Republic, Post Production Facilities, Twickenham Studios and at the Family Channel Studios by Griffin Prods. and Family Prods. Inc. Executive producers, James Dowaliby, Nigel Pickard; producers, Michael Deakin, Adam Clapham; director, Michael Tuchner; writer, James Andrew Hall; The 17-year-old prince has been affianced to a pretty thing whose father, Duke Phillip (Leo McKern), brings along gold and land grants. Wenceslas’ guardian, his greedy,anti-Christian, widowed stepmother, known uncompromisingly as The Queen (Stefanie Powers), wants her sniveling son Boleslav (Oliver Milburn) on the throne, though Wenceslas is the rightful heir.
Wenceslas’ pious grandmother, Ludmilla (Joan Fontaine), urging Christian virtues, tells him to keep praying. The church and peasants are in the prince’s corner, but it’s The Queen who’s got the ace: power. Her consort of sorts, Lord Tunna (Perry King), stalks around looking mean while she feasts and acts nasty.
Director Michael Tuchner kneads the plot in surprisingly routine fashion. Powers deliberately spits out her lines in an over-the-top interp, and King’s left with little to do.
But youthful Brandis, trapped in the vidpic’s artifice, manages to bring off an earnest, virile study of the Christian prince. Wimple-sporting Fontaine plays it serene, and Charlotte Chatton is, despite unbelievable petulance in one scene , OK as the prince’s betrothed.
All this familiar hokum might have been a smasheroo, but the dialogue’s awkward, the acting’s stiff (except for McKern, who admirably shows how a thin role can be turned into roast beef).
The winter scenes do look cold, but no one breathes frost. Thanks to production designer Roger Murray Leach, the castle is spare and realistic, the forests forbidding. David Perry’s costumes suffice; Ronnie Taylor’s camerawork and Christopher Blunden’s editing are serviceable.
Charles Gross’ score bucks up the action and sounds appealingly sweet when occasion suggests. In the finale, during a raging sword fight, the “Good King Wenceslas” tune commingles with Gross’ own music, and during the last scene a chorus triumphs with an unexplained “Marble Halls” as the folks trundle through the snow.
As family entertainment, the undemanding telefilm may satisfy, de-pending on the family. But “Good King Wenceslas” doesn’t take into account that there are adults in front of the tube, too.