Masterpiece Theatre: Rhodes

Program Description

The legendary diamond king and empire builder of colonial Africa is brought vividly to life in an international production that has been ten years in the making in Rhodes, airing on Masterpiece Theatre in three two-hour episodes on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, January 4, 5, and 6, 1998 from 9 to 11pm ET on PBS.

Filmed entirely on location in South Africa with thirty sets, 200 actors, and 10,000 extras, Rhodes was hailed during its British broadcast as "bigger than an epic...a positive colossus" (Mail on Sunday), "a triumph...a ripping yarn" (Daily Express), and "Lawrence of Arabia--with diamonds instead of desert" (Daily Mirror).

Martin Shaw stars as arch-imperialist Cecil Rhodes, the vicar's son from England who cornered the world diamond market in the 1880s, seized hundreds of thousands of square miles which he named Rhodesia, and sowed the baleful seeds of apartheid. Celebrated for his British stage and television roles, Shaw recently earned accolades in the United States for his performance in An Ideal Husband on Broadway, for which he received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor.

Rhodes's struggle to power is told in a series of flashbacks involving the only woman in his adult life, Russian princess Catherine Radziwill, played by Frances Barber (A Royal Scandal on Masterpiece Theatre, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid). Every bit as ambitious as Rhodes, her goal was to marry him despite his obvious misogyny. She ended up blackmailing him instead.

Neil Pearson portrays Dr. Leander Starr Jameson, Rhodes's overly rash, right-hand man, who led the notorious Jameson Raid that helped spark the Boer War, which pitted the British Empire against a guerrilla army of resolute Dutch settlers.

Ken Stott (Shallow Grave) plays Barney Barnato, the Cockney music hall performer who became Rhodes's most powerful rival in the diamond trade.

And Joe Shaw, Martin Shaw's real-life son, is the impetuous young Rhodes, who arrived in South Africa at age seventeen for an anticipated brief interlude in his university education. Instead, he was quickly caught up in the infectious quest for wealth.

Rhodes features many of South Africa's best-known actors, including Washington Sixolo as Lobengula, the Lear-like King of Matabeleland, who ruled a vast region that was coveted by Rhodes as a steppingstone to his dream of a pan-African empire under British control.

Rhodes is a stunning recreation of the "Wild West" era of exploitation in South Africa, when fabulous diamond and gold discoveries made it seem as if the entire continent existed to make daring men rich--rich enough to satisfy almost anyone, except Cecil Rhodes.

Episode one, "All the World's Diamonds"
Sunday, January 4, 1998 at 9pm; 120 minutes
At age seventeen, Cecil Rhodes joins his brother in southern Africa to work a tiny diamond claim. Soon the new arrival dreams of consolidating the hundreds of competing mines and creating a monopoly, a scheme also being hatched by a sharp operator named Barney Barnato.

Episode two, "The Place of Killing"
Monday, January 5, 1998 at 9pm; 120 minutes
His diamond monopoly secure and his emotional life in ruins, Rhodes turns his avarice to creating a southern African empire. The Queen of England, public opinion, and a powerful African chief stand in his way.

Episode three, "The Reckoning"
Tuesday, January 6, 1998 at 9pm; 120 minutes
Rhodes takes on the Boer Republic, home to the richest gold mines in the world, but a raid led by his right-hand man Dr. Jameson goes disastrously awry and helps spark the Boer War with England.

Interview with Rhodes writer Anthony Thomas

Cast and Production Credits

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