2013 Roundup: Modern History TV

The joke in our household is that if you mention some historical event of, say, the Anglo-Saxons or the Vikings or some such then J will say “oh that’s practically modern!” because he’s used to thinking of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Pharaohs (who stop with the famous Cleopatra) as being the “most recent”. Skews your perspective a bit.

If J’s thing is Ancient Egypt, then mine is Tudor England (spreading outwards round the world from there, and back and forth in time). And the BBC did a Tudor season relatively recently, so there were several programmes to my tastes (although I don’t think we ended up watching all of them). Again I drew the cut-off between Ancient and Modern as the fall of Rome, and some serieses straddle that boundary so have appeared on both lists. I’ve shunted some of the truly modern stuff (like Dan Snow’s recent histories of Syria and the Congo) into the next list as I think of them more as current affairs, somewhat arbitrarily!

This is still a pretty long list – 42 programmes or serieses in all. Picking high and low points is hard – there’s not a stand out “why did we ever watch that” like there was in the ancient history list, but I think the weakest was Janina Ramirez’s programme about the Viking sagas. In part because I expect better from her programmes, and from that subject. Games Britannia also deserves a mention, the one episode we watched was OK but I was left with the impression that the later episodes would’ve had me rolling my eyes somewhat.

Best is incredibly difficult to pick, even picking a shortlist of half a dozen seems difficult! But I think the one I shall pick out specially is The Last Days of Anne Boleyn. It stands out not only because it’s obviously slap bang in the middle of my interests but also because it’s a slightly different format to the standard sort of history programme. It didn’t just present one interpretation and call that the truth, instead there were seven different historians or novelists who talked about four different theories about what actually happened. So we got to see more of the complexity of the issue.