Britain’s Bloodiest Dynasty was a Channel 5 series about the Plantagenets, presented by Dan Jones. I’ve been vaguely aware of Jones as an author for a while and I’ve heard good things about him, but not read any of his books. So despite my dubiousness about a Channel 5 documentary series I took a chance on recording it – it did turn out to be a pretty fun watch, even if nothing earth shatteringly new. It was part Jones walking around significant sites, and part re-enactment. I rather liked the fact that they had the characters all speak French for most of it – as, after all, they would’ve. Of course, I suspect it wasn’t the right French, but I’ve no idea how that language has changed over the last 700 or so years to be able to tell. I’ve seen comment elsewhere that the clothing was also inaccurate, I’m not up enough on the details of fashion of that era to tell that either.
The four programmes of the series each covered a different Plantagenet monarch – Henry II, Henry III, Edward II and Richard II. This was very much history as soap opera, each programme covered the life of the king in question with an emphasis on personality, relationships and how he screwed things up (or had things screwed up for him). Whilst politics or war were touched on it was more in terms of the personal interactions involved rather than any nitty-gritty detail. The reasons for choosing each king seemed to be about who would give the best story – I imagine the only difficult choice was whether it should be John or Henry III. Henry II starts the dynasty, and has the most dysfunctional family ever with not only 4 sons but also his wife rebelling against him. Henry III has the crisis & civil war with Simon de Montfort – his brother-in-law and once his best mate. Edward II – well, you can’t miss out the “buggered with a red hot poker” murder story, even if it wasn’t true (and Jones was quite clear about that being untrue on the programme). And Richard II ends the dynasty with a headlong rush of a life from Golden Boy King to Tyrant Who Gets Deposed. Fun to watch, and without (as far as I could tell) playing fast and loose with the facts. The Henry III and Edward II programmes overlapped with the current non-fiction book I’m reading which is a much more sober look at the history of England between 1225 & 1360. So particularly with those episodes I could see the gaps where Jones had missed things out, but there wasn’t anything that made me wince and disagree with him.
I said in the last paragraph this was history as soap opera, I think it’s actually accurate to say that this was a direct response to the popularity of Games of Thrones. This was Jones showing us how real history can be as exciting, brutal and bloody as anything from GRRM’s series (which Jones pretty much says outright in the intro without naming the series). And so the programme did dwell a bit too gleefully on the torture scenes for my tastes. The thing that I found particularly irritating, however, was Jones’s script was heavily larded with Upworthy headline-esque phrasing. By that I mean lots of things like “and what happened next was incredible”. It came across as a bit too heavy handedly trying to be down with the kids. But who knows, perhaps I’m just not enough down with the kids to know that that’s how the kids speak these days? 😉
Overall, as I said at the start: a fun series, but if you already have an idea of the history of this dynasty you won’t learn anything new from it.