Channel 5 don’t always do the best job of making programmes on serious subjects, and I was prepared for either a load of drivel about Game of Thrones or else a lot of waffle about Rosamund Clifford’s bower, but there was none of that.
All right, the language was a bit flippant, and Dan Jones did tell his story in a way that seemed intended to make it sound like a cross between a soap opera and a blood ‘n’ guts adventure movie, but I think sometimes we need that to get people interested in history. Nothing like a bit of royal drama for doing that … and, unfortunately, there’s not enough of it on school history syllabuses (syllabi?) I remember once having to draw a pie chart showing how much time of each day medieval monks spent praying, working and eating! I’ve been a historian pretty much from birth onwards :-), but I was 20 before I got really into the Middle Ages. A bit more about Henry II, the wonderful, fascinating Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their “Devil’s Brood”, and a lot less about the daily life of monks and the construction of motte and bailey castles, and I’d’ve been devouring books on the medieval period a lot sooner.
Of course, this period certainly wasn’t all about royal drama – although it’s a period in which royal drama had a huge impact on what was going on. The reign of Henry II, which was what this first programme in a series of three covered, saw England recover from the trauma of the war between Stephen and Matilda, important legal reforms implemented, English intervention in Ireland and all sorts of issues resulting from the establishment of a Plantagenet Empire which included much of what we think of as France. However, it has to be said that Dan Jones focused a lot more on the “headline” stories of Henry’s conflicts with his family and Thomas Becket than with law and finance, and I can’t recall Ireland, or for that matter Wales, being mentioned at all.
All a bit lightweight, then. But I think there’s room for programmes like this. Not all the time, and not instead of more serious and heavyweight programmes, the sort which BBC 2, BBC 4 and Channel 4 do rather better than Channel 5 does, but room all the same.