The Plantagenets – BBC 2

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OK, this isn’t fiction, but I feel like writing about it so I am doing! I am exceedingly chuffed that the BBC have decided to do a series on the Plantagenets: I’m always moaning about the fact that the early Plantagenets, in particular, get so little airtime, whereas we get series after series after series about the Tudors.

The first episode covered the early Plantagenets, from Henry II up to and including John. It was presented as a proper documentary series, rather than a “drama-documentary”, and it showed some interesting shots of Fontevrault Abbey, Wallingford Castle and various other places which played an important role in the history of the period. However, there were a few historical blunders, such as saying that Eleanor of Aquitaine was an only child. She wasn’t: she had a sister, whose “colourful” love life caused all sorts of political problems!

Also, it was very rushed. I appreciate that the presenter only had an hour in which to cover the events of nearly a century, but only skimming the surface meant that nothing was really explained properly. Louis wanted an annulment because Eleanor had only given him two daughters and he needed a son … er, make that Eleanor wanted an annulment because she didn’t get much chance to have sons because of Louis’ reluctance to, ah, play his part. Eleanor betrayed Henry – look, you don’t really expect Fair Rosamond In Her Bower in a documentary series, but Eleanor had considerably more to put up with from Henry than he ever did from her! Richard refused to honour his childhood betrothal to Philip’s sister – well, should the presenter not have pointed out that Alys had been having it off with Richard’s dad for years and years?! Entirely Henry’s fault, but a perfectly understandable reason for Richard breaking off the betrothal.

However, gold star for the BBC for its favourable portrayal of Matilda, who all too often gets a raw deal from male historians … and a gold star generally for turning its attention to an important but all too often neglected period of history, and for concentrating on the central facts rather than telling stories about Robin Hood and his Merry Men. It’s just a shame that they’ve tried to fit so much into too little time.

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