Wednesday, 19 March 2014


STOP PRESS: T.P. McKenna will soon be making a comeback with the re-release of 'Monarch' directed by John Walsh on blu-ray.

This was a film feature TP made in 1996 for a new director John Walsh making his drama debut. The enterprising young graduate of the London Film School aimed high with a part-fact/part-fiction account of an isolated King Henry VIII in the last year of his life who, after he is injured on a hunting trip, is forced to take refuge in a strange manor house, well away from the protection of his palaces and his court.

TP on set at Charlton House with director John Walsh

There are fears of enemies within and without the walls as the king glowers in a virtual state of persecution. In his delirium a conflation of his wives attends his bedside (all played by Jean Marsh). Even Ebenezer Scrooge only had to cope with three ghosts in the one night.

The wives of Henry VIII haunt him
through the long night as portrayed by Jean Marsh

Cinematographer, Ray Andrew (noted for his camera work on The Shining, Das Boot and An American Werewolf In London) enhances the film's tension with a subdued, almost Stygian lighting plot providing each frame with a painterly quality.
'Walsh's composition is reminiscent of painter Caravaggio'

This is an assured feature film debut by John Walsh, however, it might be said to be a matter of regret that his notable successes as an award-winning documentary film maker have kept him from following up on his success with Monarch. 

Perhaps, with the restoration of the original negative for its blu-Ray release, Walsh will be inspired to return to the dramatic form. For now, a distinct gem of a movie has been remounted and will soon be ready for a whole new audience.

Monarch Trailer Vimeo from walshbros on Vimeo.

Bringing Monarch Back to Life: Director John Walsh spoke recently to the BBC on the challenges of restoring his 'lost film':

"During the shoot of Monarch my small cast and modest crew would receive daily film stock supplies directly from Kodak HQ in Hemel Hempstead," director John Walsh said.

"A refrigerated van would arrive to bring us our daily ration of camera negatives.  Another production was receiving a daily delivery from the same driver - Stanley Kubrick's final film, the epic 18-month shoot, Eyes Wide Shut.

"When we received Mr Kubrick's invoice after a clerical error, I was shocked and amazed at the amount of the invoice - more than the total cost of my shooting budget."

Walsh added: "When we located the project we found more than we bargained for with over 52 cans of various footage from film trims, cutting copies and work prints.   We didn't know if the original camera negative would be amongst all of this haul. After a close examination I was delighted to find all of the original camera negative was there and in good shape for its age."

Every frame of film has been scanned in high definition and had more than 10,000 particles removed by hand. A new sound mix was also created from the original elements.

Walsh said negatives mislaid or incorrectly labelled when put into storage were at risk of being lost for good.

"The process of storing and preserving original materials is one that the film and TV industry is famously inept at," he said.

"During this process I was surprised to find many of the 20th Century's major film titles have lost their original elements and the restoration process starts with old battered projection prints that may have been around many cinemas.

"Often the original camera negatives have been lost, junked or in one famous case for the Oscar-winning Cabaret, burnt."

London After Midnight with Lon Chaney
Walsh added: "Time is against the restoration teams as many films are fading and decaying in poor storage conditions. Some films are considered to be lost for all time.

"The holy grail for collectors is London After Midnight. The 1927 silent horror-mystery starring Lon Chaney and produced by MGM has not been seen for almost 50 years."

Monarch is released on April 7th 2014 in association between Walsh Bros. and FreemantleMedia International.  

What the critics said:

Veteran film critic, Barry Norman:  

"Monarch is an impressive debut for documentary director John Walsh. At first appearance this looks like a run of the mill costume drama, but the sparse location careful lighting and efficient use of money and sound effects brings an eerie quality to a film, which although shot on a low budget, does not fall into the trap many of Walsh's peers appear to have in recent years. Brit gangster flicks are almost a prerequisite for a British directorial debut these days. Opting for this historical retelling of one night in the life of Henry VIII shortly before his death John Walsh has managed to convey a grand story of a dying King in an intimate and poignant way, with a few chills along the way.

Much of the sparseness can be attributed to the low budget yet this simply adds to the tension and feeling of emptiness in a Monarch who as lived with excess. Lighting and music are both careful and complex. The camera is confident a brave in many sequences allowing the story to unfold rather than driving the camera and Walsh avoids the hand-held horror of most first time feature directors, opting for a more considered and Kubrick like composition of each shot.

Lighting by ex-Kubrick alumni Ray Andrew (camera operator on The Shinning) heightens the sense of a dark, damp historical past. You can almost smell the damp, yet the lighting and careful flesh tones and Walsh's composition is reminiscent of painter Caravaggio.

The support players are good here too, feeling as through they have been at the court of Henry for some years are themselves ready to give up the ghost. Female cheaters are sparse here but their impact is powerful. Jean March from "Willow" and "Upstairs, Downstairs" impresses as a ghostly amalgam of Henry's past wives. Walsh has brought new life to an up to now, well trodden piece of English history.

The plot is simple yet effective. A grand house closed for the season when one night the injured ruler is brought in and slumps by the grand fireplace. Henry is without the power and control of his palace and is vulnerable from those around him, and from his own sanity.

TP McKenna towers as Henry VIII with on screen chemistry of the Jean Marsh putting a chill down the spine of most viewers. It is somewhat of a shame that little gems like this are not given a wider viewing. I look forward to what John Walsh can next offer up."

New York Times critic,  Mark Denning:  

"A commoner has an unusual run-in with the King of England in this offbeat historical drama. In 1547, Thorn (James Coombes) is employed as a servant and caretaker by a wealthy British landowner who has put Thorn in charge of his mansion while he's away for the winter. 

One night, Thorn is terrified to hear what he imagines are armed bandits breaking into the mansion, and he hides in fear of his life. However, Thorn soon discovers he has a very different breed of unexpected guests. With political unrest sweeping England, King Henry VIII (T.P. McKenna) is travelling incognito while trying to bring stability back to his domain, but his coach has been attacked by thieves and the wounded king needs a place to rest. Henry isn't so sure that the ambush was a simple robbery, however -- he thinks it could have been a cleverly disguised assassination attempt, and one of the advisors travelling with the king agrees. 

As Thorn observes the political intrigue that has suddenly appeared on his doorstep, he also has to deal with the randy goings-on of Henry VIII's assistants, who are openly and flamboyantly gay. Monarch was the first dramatic feature from documentary filmmaker John Walsh."

Amazon Customer Review - Stephen McKenna (Editor,

I have given this film top marks with five stars, however, as my late father takes the title role I could be accused of being biased.

Well, yes and no. The five children of TP McKenna could often be his sternest critics. We were his reality check and there was no fake flattery in our household as the closing credits rolled. So, we don't issue glowing plaudits that easily.

That said, I'm happy to do so in this instance because what we see here, in this modest and ambitious film, is a towering performance of great presence. It is almost a masterclass in the art of acting by which the performer finds that which is in their real character and melds it with the traits of a once living, breathing legend of history to bring that figure to life.

Many have been here before and often with great success. One thinks of Charles Laughton, Robert Shaw, Richard Burton and Keith Michell but in 'Monarch' TP McKenna has no cause to be looking over his shoulder.

He presents not just the bombast of the character but also the tremendous vulnerability of the king; wounded and at the end of his years, hunted by traitors and haunted by the ghosts of his turbulent past. None more so than by the chilling apparition of his deceased wives played by Jean Marsh all in spectral white and a stark contrast to the bloody red of his scarlet tunic. Scarce wonder this Henry cries as a child praying for deliverance from his demons. If he fails to make it through this tormented night he will have many questions to answer.

The credit for this vivid imagining all has to go to John Walsh's excellent script and his intelligent ear for dialogue. It's one of those screenplays with an audacity that takes a puff of fiction and blows it out with all the authenticity, we could almost believe, of genuine, Tudor smoke.

Add in a clutch of rich and waspish character performances from the supporting cast, an arthritically creaking country house and menacing shadows that hide who knows what sinister evils and somehow morning won't come soon enough.


Saturday, 16 April 2011


T.P. McKenna

 ~ 1929-2011 ~

"As an actor he was unique, as a friend and colleague he was exceptional, as a father he was irreplaceable."

This website is dedicated to the life and career of the celebrated Irish actor, T.P. McKenna.

Spanning a fifty year period as a star of stage, screen and radio, the pages that follow chart his progress from a small Irish village to the world stage through press cuttings, reviews, live excerpts and recordings.

Commenced in August 2010 the site is in progess and new content is being added all the time.  Please, do pop back from time to time and feel free to let us know how we're coming along.

Stephen McKenna (Site Editor)

Wednesday, 13 April 2011


Critic and broadcaster, Matthew Sweet, looks back on TP's career and talent for BBC Radio 4's 'Last Word'.

Monday, 11 April 2011


Fellow Abbey Theatre player,  Pat Laffan,  recalls a special colleague and friend.

Friday, 11 February 2011


Photo: Adrian Korsner
The life and essence of a most unique actor and personality were celebrated in a memorial service at St.Paul's, Covent garden, otherwise known as the Actors' Church. 

The star of the show was, of course, the lately absent, TP McKenna, a bronze bust of whom looked on in silent approval as a selection of his favourite works and pieces were recited by esteemed colleagues who had also been his close friends through much of his life, including Sara Kestelman, Peter Bowles, Tim Pigott-Smith and Jim Norton.

There were choices from the King James bible, TS Eliot (Journey of the Maji), Byron (So, We'll No More go a-roving) and The Dead (James Joyce).


Sara Kestelman reading

TP's children (Ralph, Kilian, Breffni, Stephen and Sally) each participated in the moving service while grandson Tom gave a much admired rendition of Franck's Panis Angelicus, accompanied by organist, Simon Gutteridge.

At the TP McKenna memorial service at St Paul's Church, Covent Garden, London, were (from left) his son Stephen, actor Jim Norton, Philip Markey and actor Peter Bowles. Photograph: Joanne O'Brien

Distingushed guests were led by Sir Ronald Harwood who attended on behalf of His Royal Highness, Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales,  Ciaran Byrne, Cultural Officer of the Irish Embassy, on behalf of His Excellency, Ambassador Bobby McDonagh and on behalf of Equity, Malcolm Sinclair (president), Christine Payne (general secretary) and Stephen Spence (assistant general secretary).

Speaking after the service, son Stephen said, 'We had the best of both worlds - a service that was entirely personal to our family,  but also, one that his many friends and admirers could share in.'
He continued, 'I reckon, TP may well be at the end of a line of first-born stage actors, but still the spirit and the desire to act is as strong as ever in the generations that have followed.  Dad would have been so disappointed to have heard us say 'we won't see his like again', or anything of that ilk.'

Among the congregation were TP's closest family friends and colleagues of many years standing but especially welcome were those who were simply admirers of his work.  In addition to the selected readings the congregation also added great voice with spirited renditions of 'Lord of the Dance', 'Lord of All Hopefulness' and 'Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer'.

Peter Bowles read TS Eliot's The Journey of the Maji
Tim Pigott-Smith reading from Byron's
'So, We'll Go No More A Roving'

Ben Whitrow brought laughter into the church as he
recalled his 'ebullient, irrepressible, passionate' friend.
Jim Norton read an extract from 'The Dead' by James Joyce

In a prayer of dedication TP's sister, Annette, offered up thanks for her brother's 'unique talent, his long and rich career and the unending support and love of his friends and family,'

Concluding the service, son Stephen declared of his father,
"This most distinguished player, has left the stage
for the very last time, but still the applause goes on."

Service pictures (and portrait) reproduced courtesy of photographer Adrian Korsner ( who, for so many years,  was TP McKenna's constant friend for conversations on all matters life, politics and jazz, but who just wished the memorial producer had thought to include some Duke Ellington for TP!