Last Thursday we went out to the cinema to see a live broadcast from the current British Museum exhibition about the Vikings (which I’ve already written about here). Cineworld Ipswich sadly managed not to switch the screen on in time for the start of the broadcast, but we only missed the first few minutes. The format of the live part of the show was Bettany Hughes and Michael Wood looking at various of the items on display in the exhibition and talking to experts about them (including Gareth Williams, the curator of the exhibition). There were also a couple of segments of chat with the director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, about the exhibition and the objects. These live sections were interspersed with pre-recorded stuff – presumably partly to allow presenters and camera crews time to reorganise themselves for the next bit!
It was an interesting counterpoint to the exhibition itself. I felt the exhibition emphasised the non-raiding, non-marauding parts of the Viking story, and was trying to position them more as traders and colonisers. Whereas the broadcast wholeheartedly embraced the raiding and warlike side of the Vikings, while also pointing out their softer, more civilised side (sometimes). It also had more of a sense of fun to it than the exhibition itself – perhaps just because it’s easier to convey that enthusiasm in person than in a museum label.
Each segment of the broadcast was introduced with a dramatic declamation of (translated) Viking poetry, by a man dressed up as a Viking, followed by a burst of fire revealing the title (like “War” or “Raiding” or “Women”). Obviously these were part of the pre-recorded stuff, I thought they were rather well done. We also got to see the exhibition curator dressed up as a Viking warrior – apparently he does re-enactment as well as museum curation! He was particularly enthusiastic at showing Michael Wood how you could use a long knife from below a shield wall to gut your enemies … And the show piece at the end of the broadcast was some footage of a (re-enacted) Viking ship burial, which I think for me suffered from the amount they’d been hyping that in advance – sadly not quite as spectacular a I was expecting.
As well as all that sort of thing we also got treated to a much closer look at some of the artifacts than was possible in the exhibition itself. In the case of many of the smaller pieces (like the little ship brooch that opens the exhibition) this meant we got to see them at many many times life size and so could really see the detail. One thing that struck me in all the explanations of the objects was that a lot of them have been relatively recently discovered. The ship burial that they had from Scotland, for instance, hadn’t been completely conserved yet (making it incredibly fragile and difficult to display). And there was a tiny silver figurine of a female warrior(? valkyrie?) with a sword that had only been dug up last year!
It’s cool that the British Museum are doing this sort of thing. I think as a broadcast it would work whether or not you had a chance to see the exhibition in person. I’m glad we went to see it, and I think it’s a shame we somehow didn’t go to the Pompeii Live one last year – I’ll definitely keep an eye out for these sorts of tie-in broadcasts in future.