Luke Skywalker’s taken charge of training the Templar initiates, the Grand Master’s stealing lines from Scarlett O’Hara, Ed Stoppard thinks he’s a cross between King Herod and the Exodus Pharoah, the unborn baby whom the Queen of France conceived in an affair with a monk has been stolen from her womb, we’re all about to get mixed up with a group of devil worshippers, no-one knows the words to Toto songs, Viscount Gillingham has taken to self-flagellation, and I think everyone’s forgotten that they’re meant to be looking for the Holy Grail. Medieval history is not like this in Jean Plaidy books. I’m hoping it all gets sorted when Andrew Foyle/Charles Blake/the nice doctor from The Royal takes revenge on Carson the butler for persecuting Cathars: I’ve been rather keen on Cathars since reading up on them in my first year at university. This has just got beyond bonkers, though. What planet are the scriptwriters on?! Maybe Luke Skywalker knows …
We’re supposed to be in early 14th century France, in the period leading up to the dissolution of the Knights Templar by Philip IV. I was assuming it was meant to be 1305, when Philip’s queen, Joan of Navarre, died in childbirth (or, if you believe the alternative version, as a result of witchcraft, but I think we’ll go with the childbirth version of events). Although Pope Boniface VIII, played by Jim Carter (Carson), was already dead by then, whereas he’s alive and well in this. However, a preview thing said it that it was meant to be 1307. Even though Joan’d only just died, and that was actually in 1305. And Boniface died in 1303. Right. Whichever planet the scriptwriters are on, it definitely isn’t Planet Historical Accuracy.
Joan had just died, anyway. However, in this crazy universe, she didn’t die in childbirth, or even by witchcraft, but was murdered by her husband, after he found out that her baby was fathered not by him but by Brother Landry – aka Viscount Gillingham (why are so many people from Downton Abbey in this?). Landry removed the baby (well, he got one of his mates to perform a Caesarean on Joan’s corpse) and has hopefully hidden her away safely.
Meanwhile, he’d been booted out of the Templars, for having an affair with the queen – which TBH was not unreasonable, as it’s not really what monks are meant to do – but he was desperate to be allowed back in and hung around outside Templar HQ making such a fuss that the Grand Master eventually gave in – yelling “As God is our witness” in apparent (but rather feeble) imitation of Scarlett O’Hara in the garden at Twelve Oaks. However, as punishment for being a naughty boy, Landry has got to start again at the bottom of the heap, and the monk in charge of trainees (sorry, initiates) is Mark Hamill, aka Luke Skywalker. I’ve never watched anything to do with Star Wars, but even I’ve heard of Luke Skywalker.
Landry then messed up during a fight with lots of swords and shields. People kept shouting “Hold the line”. I was waiting for someone to say “Love is always on time” … but they didn’t. Oh well. It looked as if it might get a bit more interesting when he starting whipping himself, being rather upset after Luke Skywalker told him off. I mean interesting from the point of view of exploring medieval religious attitudes towards sin and punishment, not in an S&M sense! But from there we went on to a strange conference around Joan’s half-decayed corpse. I didn’t really need to see that.
This was mad enough, but, from what I gather, it’s about to get worse. Philip has sussed that Landry took the baby, having noticed that she’s gone missing from Joan’s corpse. He’s now going to order that all babies in the area be murdered, to ensure that Joan and Landry’s baby dies. I know this sort of thing happens in the Bible, but it didn’t happen in medieval France and I think it’s actually going way beyond the boundaries of good taste to include a storyline like that in something that’s supposed to be a historical drama, not a dystopian horror story. And then a load of devil-worshippers are going to turn up, which I don’t mind per se … but they’re going to murder people in Satanic rituals. Don’t ask me what’s happened to the Holy Grail: everyone seems to be too busy murdering each other to think about it.
WTF is going on with this? I know it doesn’t claim to be historically accurate, but the first series at least contained some sense, and actually made some very valid points. I’m vaguely hoping this one might show us something about the Cathars, but I don’t actually think it will, because Catharism was pretty much a spent force by this time. Mind you, given the extent of the historical accuracy so far, it wouldn’t surprise me if a load of Lutherans, Calvinists and Old Believers all turned up, never mind Cathars.
The previews are all full of people going on about “epic drama” and “complex characters”. Well, sorry, but I just can’t take it seriously! I suppose it isn’t any more bonkers than Vikings, and I’m still loving that and am sorry that the next series is going to be the last; but we don’t have that many historical sources for the Viking era, and a lot of what we do have is so mixed up with myth and legend that somehow it doesn’t seem such a problem for a TV series about that to make so much up. With medieval France, we’ve got the real history – and this very definitely isn’t it!
On the other hand … maybe this is going to appeal to the sort of audience who wouldn’t watch a more traditional period drama series? Is that a good thing, if it’s getting more people into history? You could possibly argue that, but I think there’s a danger of ending up with a blurring of the lines between something like Game of Thrones, which is pure fiction/fantasy, and real history, and I think that’s pretty worrying. This is entertaining, in a way, but I’m not really comfortable seeing the lives of real historical characters – kings, queens, popes, advisors, et al – distorted as much as this. If you want to write pure fiction, maybe stick to purely fictitious characters?
Marks for being entertaining, though. The swords and shields fight was quite dramatic. Even if they didn’t seem to know the rest of the words to the Toto song.