Review: Wellington, The Iron Duke Unmasked

Drama and documentary are seamlessly blended together in this BBC2 biography of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. The use of actors to bring to life the letters and diaries of the Duke and those who knew him, as well as a varied mix of commentary and narration, provides a rich history of one of the most famous British military figures.

However, this history takes us beyond his military career. The Iron Duke Unmasked attempts to show the man of flesh and blood, not the man of iron, and to thus create an ‘intimate portrait of a hero’. Wellington’s life is played out against its contemporary context, with the military, political and domestic spheres drawn in together and depicted side by side.

The biography skilfully situates personal histories within their political, social and cultural context. Key moments of early nineteenth century history – the Napoleonic and Peninsular Wars, the Peterloo Massacre, the question of electoral reform and the Cato Street Conspiracy – are all discussed.

In relations to the personal and domestic sphere, Wellington’s relationships with the women in his life – his wife, his friends and his lovers – are also examined and their own words are brought to life. Indeed, his relationship with his wife, Kitty, is a key focal point of the documentary. Their marriage comes across, in many ways, as a beautiful and glorious love story which went horribly wrong. The determined lover goes back to reclaim his waiting bride; it has all the makings of a romance. If only it had also come with the happily ever after. In this sense, The Iron Duke Unmasked very much fulfils its promise of an intimate portrait.

 

Bibliography

‘The Iron Duke Unmasked’, BBC2, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05vlz90

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