Having completed his epic adaption of "Holland's Glorie" for television, it is said writer/director Walter van der Kamp spent 6 years researching and developing his magnum opus "Willem van Oranje" which debuted in 1984 and starred Jeroen Krabbé in the title role. However, Walter already had a head start on the material, for in 1973 he brought the legend of Tijl Uilenspiegel to the small screen which takes place in the same time-period. Taking the book by Charles de Coaster and adding to it a lot of historical material, Van der Kamp focused on the parallel lives of the fictional folk-hero Uilenspiegel and the historical Spanish ruler Philips II. Born on the same day, their lives share many similarities despite their different circumstances and the two of them end up on competing sides of the 80 years war. This mini-series shares a lot of historical characters, events, some of the same schoolteacher mentality and a couple of lines with "Willem van Oranje" and at least one prominent actor: Jeroen Krabbé appears in a supporting part as the Spanish Duke of Alva.
The tale of Uilenspiegel is told in four 90 minute installments, but unlike some of Walter's famous Couperus adapt ions ("De Stille Kracht"; Van Oude Mensen, de Dingen die Voorbij Gaan") it is never dull. This is because the story jumps to and fro between the rich court of Karel V and the poor Low Countries by way of short but to the point scenes. When Willem van Oranje comes into the picture in Part 2, the story switches between three points of view. Of course it does look rather dated. The costumes are perhaps a bit too brightly colored and look like they were also being used in "Kunt U Mij de Weg Naar Hamelen Vertellen, Meneer" at the same time. But one must not forget that color television was still new and exciting in the Netherlands at this time. The entire series is filmed inside a studio, sometimes quite obviously in front of a blue screen. Still, the predominant use of Jeroen Bosch like paintings (actually provided by Wim Bijmoer) and the use of dream sequences and visions (one including Christ judging Karel V in heaven) adds a magical, fairy tale element to the proceedings. However, the dangers of being accused of witchcraft are also shown to great effect.
Wim van der Grijn makes for a likable Tijl and Rudi Falkenhagen is great as usual as his loyal friend Lamme Goedzak (even with a rather awkwardly padded costume). Ko van Dijk, one of the biggest starts in theater at the time is prominently credited as Emperor Karel V even though he does not appear in every episode and Lex van Delden, who was always playing nasty sons on TV, convincingly grows from a creepy teenage prince to a bitter old man as Philips II. One strange thing that is addressed once but never fully explained is the fact that Tijl, who is as you may recall the exact same age as Philips, does not seem to grow older at all and neither does Lamme Goedzak who is supposed to be even older.
While Tijl and Lamme are off to join the Geuzen to fight the Spanish conquerors, there are also two homegrown enemies who thwart their fortune as well as Uilenspiegel's sweetheart Nele (Willeke Alberti) and her mother Katalijne (Els van Rooden). First up is Jan Blaaser, more despicable then ever as the greedy Grijpstuiver and the calculating and deceitful Hans (Ton Kuyl) who claims to be the devil himself. Each of these plot lines are satisfactorily resolved in Part 4, though we never get to see if Uilenspiegel and Philips II breathe their last breath at the same time as should be expected.
The only thing that did not work for me was the inclusion of a mocking court jester at the Spanish Court played by little person Jan van Oosterdorp. Already present during the reign of Karel V, each scene at the Spanish court inevitable ends with an unfunny quip by the jester. Unfortunately Van Oosterdorp, who one presumes did not have very much prior acting experience fails to add a funny delivery. Fortunately his one-liners aren't as frequent when Philips II ascends the throne, but he is still present in every 'Spanish' scene. Thankfully Walter van der Kamp did not repeat this tactic in Willem van Oranje, although there was a far less prominent midget jester in that one as well...
8 out of 10
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