Royal Cousins at War, TV review: Family squabble begat the bloodiest century in human history


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The Independent Culture

The first part of the Royal Cousins at War (BBC2), which concludes tonight, explained the origins of the First World War as, roughly, "The World at War: Sigmund Freud Edition", starring Game of Thrones' Joffrey Baratheon as Kaiser Wilhelm II. This was the story of how Queen Victoria's family tore themselves, and a continent, apart. But for the most part, it focused on her grandson Wilhelm.

If it wasn't for the millions of dead 19-year-olds, you'd almost feel sorry for old Willy. A traumatic birth left him with a crippled left arm, which his parents tried to fix with barbaric machines. It also left, according to historian John Röhl, his mother Victoria (Queen Vic's daughter) subconsciously letting him know he wasn't up to it. We also learned that Wilhelm sent his mother erotic letters before later moving faaar to the right and disowning her.

As much as the build-up to the First World War is about as complex as history gets, boiling it down to mummy issues seems as good as any other explanation.

There was no smirking in the tone of Tamsin Greig's voiceover but some of the stories of Wilhelm's unpopularity within his family were Partridge-esque. I liked the stories of him turning up to Cowes and misjudging the decorum spectacularly. Rather than treating it as a picnic with sailboats like the Brits, Wilhelm brought a warship. Another year, he employed a marching band to wander around with him. He was, as Greig noted, "the cousin no one wanted to play with".

Not surprisingly, his resentments, and the chumminess between his cousins George V and Nicholas II didn't help the atmosphere across Europe, where a family squabble begat the bloodiest century in human history.

Think on that before your next domestic argument over a game of Risk.