The Lost Prince

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The Lost Prince
The Lost Prince.jpg
The Lost Prince DVD Cover
Created by Stephen Poliakoff
Written byStephen Poliakoff
Starring Matthew James Thomas
Miranda Richardson
Tom Hollander
Bill Nighy
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of episodes2
Producers Joanna Beresford
John Chapman
Rebecca Eaton
Peter Fincham
David M. Thompson
Editor Clare Douglas
Production companies BBC
TalkBack Productions
Distributor BBC (2003) (UK, TV)
PBS (2004, USA, TV)
Original network BBC One
Original release19 January (2003-01-19) 
26 January 2003 (2003-01-26)

The Lost Prince is a British television drama about the life of Prince John – youngest child of Britain's King George V and Queen Mary – who died at the age of 13 in 1919. [1]


A Talkback Thames production written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff, it was originally broadcast in January 2003. It won three Emmy Awards in 2005. [2] [3] [4]


John suffered from epileptic seizures and an autism-like developmental disorder, and the Royal Family tried to shelter him from public view; the script shied away from presenting the Royal Family as unsympathetic, instead showing how much this cost them emotionally (particularly John's mother, Queen Mary). Poliakoff explores the story of John, his relationship with his family and brother Prince George, the political events going on at the time (such as the fall of the House of Romanov in 1917) and the love and devotion of his nanny, Charlotte Bill (Lalla).

Episode One

A spellbound young Prince John gazes as his family attend an elaborate birthday party for his pampered and indulged grandmother Queen Alexandra in December 1908, held at Sandringham in Norfolk during the winter.

When summer arrives there is much excitement again as Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra, and their children, visit their relatives, the British royals, at the Isle of Wight. The Russians entrance Prince John with their exotic splendour. It is clear, even at this stage, that Johnnie, a charming and attractive boy, has an eccentric view of the world and is uninhibited in a way that is alien to his parents. His ailing grandfather, King Edward VII, loves him for his frankness. It is clear also that his nanny, Lalla, is reluctant to reveal the seriousness of his medical condition.

While the populace of the capital gaze into the night skies to catch a glimpse of an approaching comet, Johnnie's parents are called to Buckingham Palace to be by the King's deathbed.

During the funeral attended by all the heads of state of Europe, including the Kaiser Wilhelm, Johnnie succumbs to a serious epileptic fit. Queen Mary, Johnnie's mother, summons doctors to examine him and their diagnosis confirms her and Lalla's worst fears. Lalla volunteers to look after Johnnie to prevent him being sent to an institution. The two of them are to be sent to Sandringham, where Johnnie is to be prevented from encountering anybody but the closest members of his family.

His sibling, Prince George, who has always treasured Johnnie, swears to protect him. Johnnie, now a few years older, is deprived of the company of any children and finds the schooling of his tutor, Hansell, unfathomable. Although lonely, he always takes an optimistic view of life. Then one day, to the acute embarrassment of King George V and Queen Mary, he speaks his mind at a tea party held for Prime Minister H.H. Asquith and his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lloyd George.

Johnnie is summoned to London to be re-examined by the doctors. During his stay he is taken by his brother George up to the minstrel's gallery looking down on the banqueting hall of Buckingham Palace, to observe a grand state occasion. The assembled dignitaries are chattering feverishly about the poise with which the Queen has dealt with the intrusion of a suffragette, who has confronted the Queen to demand her support for women's emancipation.

During the banquet Asquith and Lloyd George are called back to Downing Street to receive the news that is to prove to be the catalyst for the start of the First World War.

The following morning Johnnie receives a rare audience with his father King George, who shows him his treasured stamp collection. Johnnie is more interested in his father's pet parrot, Charlotte. Suddenly, father and son are interrupted by the King's Private Secretary, Stamfordham, who has come to relay the news of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. Realising that the news has been withheld from him, the King erupts in fury. Unnoticed by the adults, Johnnie pursues Charlotte, as the terrified bird flies away into the bowels of the building. The Queen, Lalla and George go searching for Johnnie and his mother is shocked when she sees, for the first time, one of Johnnie's debilitating fits. In the midst of scurrying officials gathering for urgent diplomatic meetings, Johnnie is secreted out of the Palace and back to the isolation of his country estate.

Episode Two

Prince George witnesses the brinkmanship of the Allies in the face of the belligerent posture taken by the Central Powers, led by Germany. Much to the surprise of all concerned, the weak and vacillating Tsar Nicholas of Russia mobilises his troops and plunges Europe into a world war. Against his wishes, George is sent to the harsh Naval Academy where his rebellious nature leads him to question the propaganda about the cruelty of the German armed forces.

Propaganda combined with the disastrous consequences of the conflict on the battlefield of Flanders turns the public's attention to the German ancestry of the British royal family. The trauma of war is even felt by Johnnie, Lalla and their household, who are forced to live in increased isolation in Wood Farm, on the fringes of the Sandringham estate. Prince George is determined, however, to maintain contact with Lalla and his brother. He arrives to relay the news that the family is to change its name to Windsor and that the Tsar of Russia has abdicated and is to be exiled in Britain by the Bolshevik revolutionaries.

George is alarmed at the reaction of his own subjects and persuades Stamfordham to press Lloyd George to rescind the invitation to the Tsar. Johnnie dreams innocently of his Russian cousins coming to live with him and is being prepared by Lalla to give a recital to his parents. King George and Queen Mary are traumatised by what follows – the execution of the Romanovs. Weighed down by the effects of the conflagration that has enveloped Europe, they find consolation when their son Johnnie dies in his unbounded optimism and unalloyed love of life. We know that George and Lalla will be comforted every day of their lives by remembering his pure and untarnished character.


Reception & awards

The drama won a high viewing figure and much praise, was released on VHS and DVD, and was repeated on BBC One in January 2004. [5] A further repeat showing followed on BBC Two in January 2006. It is now occasionally shown in two parts on the BBC cable channel UK History. Both Miranda Richardson and Gina McKee received Best Actress nominations at the British Academy Television Awards. The miniseries was also nominated for BAFTA TV awards for editing (Clare Douglas), music (Adrian Johnston), and photography (Barry Ackroyd).

After presentation in the United States in October 2004, it won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Miniseries in 2005. Miranda Richardson was nominated for a Golden Globe.

It was also repeated on BBC Two on 14 and 21 November 2009.

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  1. The Lost Prince at IMDb
  2. "The Lost Prince (Masterpiece Theatre)". Television Academy. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
  3. "The Lost Prince". BBC .
  4. Lawson, Mark (16 January 2003). "Mark Lawson: Stephen Poliakoff's The Lost Prince". The Guardian .
  5. "Lost Prince loses ratings fight". BBC News . 20 January 2003.

Further reading