Historical dramas: Yay or nay?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bT9sKecah4wA break before I post endless pictures of Chinon, Henry streetnames, Dover castle and tales of the British Library! A little debate for today: historical dramas, yay or nay? The phrase ‘historical drama’ does funny things to me; on the one hand it usually means I’ll be sure to waste an hour of my life excitedly hate watching anything with flouncy dresses. On the other hand it means I’ll spend said hour cringing and getting rather uppity about various errors. There are two distinct problems with historical dramas and annoyingly enough I think that’s why people (including me) watch them.

Problem number one; they’re often based on (usually) better books, Pillars of the Earth  managed to make something believable and, most of the time-if peasants and long battle scenes is your thing-watchable. HOWEVER, Pillars of the Earth is most definitely in the minority of good shows, the less said about the BBC’s lavish £10 million flop The White Queen the better. The difference between Pillars of the Earth and White Queen is the quality of research put into each book, this does not mean that I am in anyway discrediting the BBC’s research team and I’m sure Ms Gregory knows her history; but the show was filled from episodes 1-10 with inaccuracies, bad acting and a silly script. From zipped up dresses to made up characters and Max Irons weird pregnancy belly the show lurched from one ‘talking point’ to another. There were some memorable characters (Lady Mags, Warwick, Annie N and maybe George if not at all for his lovely hair) but a few good supporting cast members does not save a show. And yes, it just about got better towards the end, but that’s damning with faint praise. On the otherhand, Pillars of the Earth was actually less expensive than The White Queen and not written by an historian, but it was a better and much more believable show. The sets looked authentic, nobody-not even the Hollywood stars-had Hollywood teeth and the show really excapsulated the drama of the period. How White Queen managed to make the Wars of Roses dull is beyond me. If we look at what Ken Follet did with the original book Pillars of the Earth and the script he then approved, it shows that you don’t necessarily have to be a history grad to write about a period accurately and beautifully.

That rant over most of the famous historical dramas are not based on books, just look at some of the big players such as; The Tudors, Rome and The Borgias and you’ll see this.  This is where we get to problem two: style over substance. These shows are big budget, high octane soap operas, borderline  R-rated romps with lots of heaving bosoms and leather trousers. Rome looked amazing, the show setting out to do what I Claudius did several decades ago, but better. On that level it failed; no show could top the drama, the acting prowess and plot of I Claudius but I don’t believe that the shows attracted the same audiences. I Claudius suffered from shaky sets and cheap costumes, but it wasn’t about the aesthetics of the show, it was about plot. Rome, does not necessarily capture the history and cut-throat nature of politics that I Claudius does, but it certainly captures the splendour of the ancient world in a way its predecessor never could because of a low budget. Now we get to The Tudors, a more controversial show to say  the least. This show is the show that splits opinion, it’s the marmite of tv. Yes, they cast the painfully beautiful and clearly brunette Jonathan Rhys Meyers to play a fat ginger king, yes several of the names, countries, dates were just plain wrong, but did you get bored? No.

I refuse to look at The Tudors as a historical drama as it refuses to be one, the show’s creators literally took the name Tudor and went demented after that. The Tudors, if you think about it, is essentially Dynasty in period dresses. It’s chock full of male testosterone and saucy wenches, the show’s sheer ridiculousness made it watchable. Some may call me a hypocrite for shaming The White Queen and-to all intents and purposes-praising The Tudors, but there is a key difference between the two shows that sways me to team Tudor. As mentioned above The Tudors never tried to claim it was historically accurate, the cast members didn’t do repeated interviews whining about why nobody took the show seriously or huffily saying: “It’s a RETELLING you don’t have to be 100% true all the time it’s still historically accurate GOD” (clearly the cast of The White Queen was made up of moody teenagers in my head)! No, The Tudors  never, ever, tried to bullsh*t the public into believing it was anything other than a little silly. Over the ten weeks White Queen inflicted itself on us not once, was there a week when the author, script writer or one of the boyband members-I mean male cast mates, didn’t slate the general public for daring point out problems in the show. If they’d have not stuck so rigidly to the argument that it was historically accurate maybe I’d be more forgiving. But  the show pretended to be something it’s not and, if you don’t have the good humour to accept what you’re starring in is just a little bit campy then boo to you. And finally with The Borgias let me take a deep sigh and compose myself. Actually on second thoughts, just don’t get me started; all I will say is that I had such high hopes for this show and it left me with incest, an unfinished plot. It’s best I stop NOW when it comes to The Borgias thanks a bunch Neil. While I’m on this I’ll go out and say almost all the female characters in above shows are HORRIBLE.

I realise for a blog about Henry II this is all looking overwhelming Renaissance-y apart from Pillars of the Earth which is before Henry! That’s because save Lion in Winter, Murder in the Cathedral and Becket Henry has little time on the big screen which, as you could probably guess, I think is a little unfair. That said I don’t know if I could stand to watch such a complex period torn apart then sewn back together in a horrible quilt of heaving bosoms, leather trousers and OTT sex scenes (I just know they’d add incest in there somewhere too). Despite all this, whenever there is a new historical drama I’ll most likely be watching it, if not only so I can go on twitter straight afterwards to complain. And that is why the majority of people watched The White Queen, to complain. You don’t watch it for Oscar worthy performances or for Elizabeth’s Woodville’s glossy loreal shiny hair. Most people watch so they can go on twitter and show off about how much they know about English history, I include myself in this group of know it alls. I hope this hasn’t made me seem in anyway vindictive or snobby I just like my dramas to sublime or campy, nowhere in between please, I’m a black and white gal when it comes to my television shows! In conclusion even thought it’s usually awful it’s a big fat YAY to historical dramas, keep ’em coming BBC…just nobody ever make me watch Downton Abbey…

Over and out. I promise nect time I’ll actually write a non-ranty piece about Henry II!

Is that you Henry VIII?!

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