Fickle Fascinations

I like a lot of things.

Category: Television

‘The White Queen’ – Episode One: Review

UPDATEThe White Queen’s producers have responded to criticism about the controversial attempted rape scene in this first episode: http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/tvandradioblog/2013/jun/21/white-queen-rape-scene-producers-respond.

I would argue they miss the point somewhat. Disturbing as it may be, rape shouldn’t necessarily be censored. But it should be challenged and not allowed to pass without comment. Furthermore, they say that Elizabeth and Edward were truly ‘in love’ in reality, yet the likelihood is that Elizabeth was married to Edward against her will for the good of her family. This was standard practice during this time period. A loving marriage was often, unfortunately, altogether more rare.

Okay, hands up, who thought this was about Queen Elizabeth I? 

The colossal crossover success of Game of Thrones surely makes any television executive weak at the knees. A new co-production from the BBC and Starz, The White Queen, seems precisely manufactured to gobble up some of HBO’s massive audience, and as such, it is timed to coincide almost perfectly with the conclusion of Season 3 of Game of Thrones.

Rebecca Ferguson as Elizabeth Woodville.

And just as the characters in The White Queen publicly display their allegiance to the House of Lancaster or York with a red or white rose pinned to their breast, the show itself wears its influences on its sleeve. This is immediately apparent during the first scene which is near identical to the opening moments of Season One of Game of Thrones. A wounded soldier scrambles desperately through a snowy forest, pursued hotly by an unknown enemy. Sound familiar?

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The Historical Inspiration for the Red Wedding of ‘Game of Thrones’.

WARNING: Spoilers for Episode 9 of Season 3 of Game of Thrones.

Do not go any further unless you have watched ‘The Rains of Castamere’.

Very last warning!

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Robb Stark (played by Richard Madden) in ‘Game of Thrones’.

No doubt many of you are sobbing inconsolably after the latest Game of Thrones episode, ‘The Rains of Castamere’. Even book fans, who have known what to expect all season and have whispered of the Red Wedding with hushed and dreaded tones, will be struggling to process the on-screen carnage. I still remember my initial reaction to reading that fateful chapter: I threw the book across the room in shock and anger. I didn’t dare pick it up again for days. (One supposes that was the emotional response Martin was going for!). An adequate summation of our collective reaction may be: ‘Leave me so I can cry over the deaths of  fictional characters’.

This article will not make you feel any better about what you have seen; it is not intended to be a comforting balm. Instead, it will tell you of the real-life historical event that inspired George R. R. Martin to break the heart of every one of his readers.

Every writer needs some inspiration and Martin is spoiled for choice in the blood-soaked annals of West European history. Many have observed how closely the War of the Five Kings in Game of Thrones resembles the War of the Roses in fifteenth-century England. Likewise, the cloak-and-dagger politics of King’s Landing  could easily be mistaken for almost any medieval European court. To find the inspiration for the Red Wedding, undoubtedly one of the most shocking events of the series to date, Martin looked to medieval Scotland and the infamous ‘Black Dinner’ of 1440.

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How To Write Historical Fiction

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‘Inglourious Basterds’.

When it comes to writing a good story there are no definite, concrete ‘RULES YOU MUST OBEY’. If you are a skilled enough writer, you can make even the most hare-brained idea work, convention be damned. Quentin Tarantino’s playfully warped interpretation of World War Two in Inglourious Basterds is a prime example. Yet after assessing the merits and faults of both Spartacus and Vikings, I thought, perhaps brazenly, that it would be interesting to outline some of the common pitfalls of historical fiction.

In this study, we will branch out from television to envelop film in a big, affectionate cuddle (if we like it) or a brutish, rib-cracking bear hug (if we don’t). Without further ado, let us begin.

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Religion, Raids and Ragnar(ök): Series One of ‘Vikings’

MINOR SPOILERS for Series One of Vikings.

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Ragnar and his crew in ‘Wrath of the Northmen’.

It would be fair to say that not many of us expected much from Vikings. The History Channel is not exactly famed for high quality serialised drama. It’s infinitely more well-known for its laughable insistence that the ancient world’s architectural triumphs are so hard to comprehend they can only be the work of ALIENS! It’s the only rational explanation!

It is with pleasure then, that Vikings ended up being such a welcome surprise. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been quite so unexpectedly enjoyable, as a quick glance behind-the-scenes reveals a creator of considerable pedigree, Michael Hirst. He is of course responsible for Elizabeth, Elizabeth II: The Revenge of the Spanish Armada (sorry, The Golden Age) and most pertinently perhaps, the breakout hit, The Tudors. In these examples, Hirst plays fast-and-loose with history, prioritising narrative-flow above all else. You will find little slavish accuracy here history fans, most ‘facts’ are quickly sacrificed upon his altar of high drama. Yet while they may not be strictly credible in the minutiae of historical detail, they more importantly feel authentic and stay relatively true to the broader historical reality. Indeed, Hirst’s fast-paced and ever-so-slightly blasé approach to history ends up being a perfect fit for the lively world of the Vikings.

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A “14-year-old boy’s ultimate video game fantasy”?: The Violence of ‘Spartacus’

SPOILER WARNING: I talk about the last few episodes of Spartacus.

Don’t read unless you’ve watched the full series. But why haven’t you already?!

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Spartacus in War of the Damned.

A popular school of thought regarding our recreational consumption of violence is that we all have an in-built blood-lust (to variable degrees). Initially, this makes sense. After all, mankind’s proclivity for warfare throughout history is undeniable and has scant signs of ever abating.

Our active enjoyment of violence when presented as entertainment is equally ancient. The gladiatorial arenas of Rome are scarcely a far cry from modern-day boxing rings or cage fights. Whether in the Colosseum in AD.40 or in Madison Square Garden in the 21st century, the crowd bays for blood. The flash of red on the sand (or in the ring) is the ultimate thrill for an audience.

While we must still question why we have this somewhat ghoulish desire, arguably safer and more acceptable ways to quench this thirst have been discovered. Violent films, books, video-games and other forms of media can perform this function, without outwardly harmful actions (although the mainstream media may not agree with this).

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