Take what you consider a boring subject at school, mix it up with silliness and funny songs, keep it historically accurate, and CBBC’s offbeat hit, Horrible Histories, probably inspired more children to love history than any amount of lessons reading dry facts from a book.
I’m feeling the same about historical dramas on television: I can’t get through a programme without googling who was who in real life and what happened to them. I’m conducting far more research than I ever did at school because these people are being brought alive for me.The flourish of a sword, the swish of a cloak and I’m there.
The Bourbon family tree became a source of endless fascination as we neared the end of The Musketeers, combined with seeing Little Louis’ story unfold in Versailles. I thought it was a mistake screening both shows at the same time, but I enjoyed reflecting on how the end of one tied in with the other, which finished last night on a massive cliffhanger. The second series will be with us … in a year. Aaaargh. I found myself hooked, once I figured out who was who - all that hair confused me at first.
The Hollow Crown, Shakespeare’s take on the War of the Roses, cemented my fixation with with royal sagas, and set up a potential Box Set Binge of gigantic proportions: Richard II, Henry IV Pt 1 and 2, Henry V, Henry VI pt 1 & 2, The White Queen, The Tudors, Wolf Hall. And then you can tack on any number of productions about Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots. Historical accuracy may not always be the focal point (check out Reign, on CW, about Mary, QofS’s earlier years in France) but the shows ignite a thirst for more information, which the internet is only too pleased to quench.
I even found myself searching for Borodino while watching War and Peace. Geography didn’t really float my boat at school either.
Producers are also plundering the modern monarchy, with ITV’s 8-parter, Victoria, soon to be claiming Sunday evenings. Starring Jenna Coleman, it will cover the Queen’s early life through to her marriage to Prince Albert.
The Crown, Netflix’s new $100m series, focuses on Elizabeth II from 1947 to date, and is produced by the same team that gave us Helen Mirren’s The Queen. The Royal household is said be a little nervous, although excited, while Netflix are trying everything in their power to get HM to endorse the show. Claire Foy, fresh from Wolf Hall, gets to keep her head in this one, while Matt Smith, continuing the Dr.Who to Royal theme, plays Prince Philip.
I’m guessing there’ll be a lot less sex and violence in those two productions than in Versailles 2, so maybe showrunners will again turn to the eras where they needn’t be so shy and can cash in on the Game of Thrones generation. The Empress Matilda, also known as Maude, would be a fantastic subject to cover: The granddaughter of William the Conqueror - daughter of Henry I and mother to Henry II - was usurped by her cousin, Stephen of Blois, leading England into Civil War. I won’t spoil the ending …
Featuring all the familial betrayals and political intrigues we’ve come to love, the timeline of our monarchy offers plenty more absorbing human stories to pillage.
Want to chat about TV? Find me @Scattyjan on Twitter.
Images: BBC and ITV