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Masterpiece Theatre's "All the King's Men" reveals the mystery behind the battle of Gallipoli.

Into the Mist


Sandringham House is a vast and idyllic royal residence in eastern England, purchased in 1861 by Queen Victoria for her son, who later became King Edward VII.

Edward's wife, Queen Alexandra, continued to visit Sandringham following her husband's death and her son's succession to the throne. It was because of her love for Sandringham and her role as the estate's matriarch that Alexandra became involved in what Winston Churchill in 1919 called "the greatest unsolved mystery of this century."

And thereby hangs the story behind Masterpiece Theatre's "All the King's Men."

As World War I broke out, the king's estate manager at Sandringham, Frank Beck, organized a home guard made up of servants, grooms and gardeners. The king insisted that Captain Beck was too old to lead his men into battle. But with the secret assistance of Queen Alexandra, Beck nonetheless commanded his troops during their first — and last — action. They met the Turks in the storied and horrific battle at Gallipoli on Aug. 12, 1915.

It was said that the volunteers from the king's estate at Sandringham advanced stoically into withering gunfire and were never seen again. The few eyewitnesses to the carnage later told of a strange "golden mist" that seemed to swallow up the men and carry them away.

And that was what was generally believed for almost a century.

The mystery lingered until former police officer Nigel McCrery began an investigation of royal records at Sandringham and at Windsor Castle in the early 1990s. Among those he spoke to was Anthony Beck, in his 90s and probably the oldest surviving member of the Beck family. He had known Frank Beck well and remembered clearly the day Frank Beck left the estate with the company.

Anthony Beck told McCrery of how Frank Beck had lined his troops up on the evening of their departure and how he had addressed his men and their families by torchlight. Beck told his troops that he would look after them and that, God willing, he would bring them all back safely to the estate. Later, Anthony Beck produced the watch that had been given to Frank Beck by Queen Alexandra on the evening before he left for war. Beck had carried the watch into the battle at Gallipoli.

What solved the riddle was McCrery's discovery that Alexandra had sent an envoy to Gallipoli some years after the company's disappearance. The envoy, the Rev. Pierrepont Edwards, stumbled upon the truth about the lost men — and kept what he found a secret.

David Jason ("A Touch of Frost") brings Frank Beck brilliantly to life in "All the King's Men," produced by McCrery and based on his own book about his discovery. Maggie Smith ("The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie") lends depth and emotion to the role of Queen Alexandra, and director Julian Jarrold makes the most of his opportunity to film at Sandringham, where much of the story actually occurred.

"All the King's Men" lags on occasion, but for the most part, it is a fascinating mystery, excellently told, beautifully filmed and exquisitely

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