The Real Versailles – BBC 2

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Word PressCardboard dolls, kissy-kissy noises and dressing up.   It’s bad enough that Channel 5 dumbs everything down like that, but now the BBC are doing it as well. Oh well. The much-discussed “Versailles” drama series, which the previews have made us well aware is not intended to be a documentary, starts tonight, and this programme, presented by Lucy Worsley (who seems to be utterly obsessed with dressing up) and Helen Castor was intended to give us the real story ahead of all the bodice-ripping.

I had to keep reminding myself that it was called “The Real Versailles” rather than “The Reign of Louis XIV”, and therefore not to moan about the fact that it didn’t cover the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the War of the Spanish Succession, Colbert’s financial reforms, etc etc.  As far as covering life at Louis XIV’s Versailles went, it was really rather good – including espionage, financial matters and culture as well as the king’s personal life and the daily life of the courtiers, and how the systems introduced by Louis brought about a unified France, although as a result a very highly-controlled France, and how France became the cultural leader of Europe during his time.

He really is a fascinating figure, and his was a very long and interesting reign. Do we in Britain still see him as the epitome of the Continental, Catholic absolute monarch and warmonger? Probably, but I think we probably admire him as well.   He’s like that saying which is being used a lot since Mourinho was appointed manager of United – “Hated, adored, never ignored” ;-).

He’s one of the monarchs. Henry VIII and Elizabeth I in England, Gustavus Adolphus and Charles XII in Sweden, Peter the Great and Catherine the Great in Russia … the monarchs! Louis XIV is one of the most familiar figures in European history, and his actions affected not only France but many other countries too. It’s a shame that this programme was presented in such a dumbed-down way – for crying out loud, cardboard dolls!! – but it was interesting, and this coming series, whilst it’ll probably have those of us who consider historical accuracy to be supremely important weeping into our late evening cups of tea, is going to get a lot of people talking about a very interesting period in history. Bring it on!!

 

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