The Romantics and Us with Simon Schama – BBC 2


Oh.  Well, I’d been looking forward to this.  I was expecting poems by Wordsworth, Keats et al and paintings by Turner.  Instead, we were informed that the Romantics converted medieval pilgrimages into Parisian riots, and that this was all to do with John Lennon and The Doors.  I mean, I like “Imagine” and “Light My Fire” as much as the next person does, but what do they have to do with daffodils in Grasmere or the season of mist and mellow fruitfulness?  And that William Blake wanted Superman to rescue him from John Locke and Darth Vader.  Locke’s books are extremely boring, admittedly, but I’m not quite clear about the role of Darth Vader in the late 18th century.  And apparently Shelley was a punk rocker.  Because he had a teenage bride.  I think the BBC may have got confused between Johnny Rotten and Jerry Lee Lewis there.  Not that either of them have got anything to do with Shelley.

By this point, I was beginning to wonder if Simon Schama, who is usually very interesting, had recently visited Amsterdam, never mind Paris.  And it then developed into everyone’s a racist, everything’s corrupt, all news is fake news, the entire world is horrible … why, oh why, does the BBC have to be so nasty and negative about everything?  The Romantics, and, for that matter, John Lennon, were looking for peace and beauty. How did the BBC manage to turn that into hatred and ugliness?  Thank goodness All Creatures Great and Small‘s on Channel 5, or the BBC would probably have tried to spoil that as well!  Where were the daffodils?  Where were the Lakes?  The Alps?  The Highlands?

This first episode was *slightly* redeemed by Christopher Eccleston reading “The Masque of Anarchy” and some shots of people walking round town with umbrellas to mark the 200th anniversary of Peterloo, but I still wasn’t convinced that medieval pilgrimages had anything to do with Jim Morrison.  Nor that any of it had anything to do with Darth Vader.

OK, the idea of it was that the Romantics had influenced the present day, and I suppose that some of the points made were valid, if a little far-fetched.  But the way it was presented was all about the BBC getting in little political digs.  Yes, you can make a link between the famous Delacroix “Liberty Leading The People” painting, the one associated with Les Miserables, and the 1968 Paris student uprising, although I’m still not sure where John Lennon comes into.  And I can see the link between medieval pilgrimages and modern day protests, although I’m not convinced that the Romantics were a link between them: pilgrimages were old hat well before the Romantics came along.  But did we need all the political gibes?

And I must confess that I never knew that The Doors were named after a Blake poem and was quite interested to hear that they were, and, OK, maybe some of Blake’s pictures did look a bit like superhero comics, but how do you get from there to saying that everyone’s a racist?

Things did look up when Simon started talking about Mary Wollstonecraft, but this was somehow twisted into saying that politicians do nothing but put out fake news.  He then got on to slagging off the British governments in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, whereupon my ears pricked up because I sensed a mention of Peterloo coming; but it was done in a way that was clearly intended as a dig at 21st century governments. Leave it out, BBC.  You are meant to be unbiased.  However, once he’d shut up about Shelley being a punk rocker, we did get “The Masque of Anarchy” and we did get Peterloo, so that was good.  But then he claimed that an 1818 painting of a shipwreck by an artist called Gericault had something to do with asylum seekers.  And did a lot of talking about cannibals.

I didn’t want cannibals.  I didn’t want Darth Vader.   And I didn’t want a load of political gibes and to be told that everyone’s a racist.

I wanted daffodils.  And lakes.  I wanted something romantic and beautiful, to distract me from everything that’s going on.

I’m off to sort out my holiday photos from the Lake District …