Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Les Rois Maudits

My iPhone, which I was given recently, does all sorts of clever things which I scarcely understand, but I have worked out how to download items from YouTube. Having built up a little collection of archive film pieces, each of a few minutes duration, I found out last night that I can download whole episodes, indeed the whole series, of one of my favourite television costume dramas - indeed probably my favourite one.

It is the 1972-3  production of the marvellous series of novels by Maurice Druon (1918-2009)  Les Rois Maudits  about the political history of France between 1314 and 1340, and the origins of the Hundred Years War. There is an introductory article about them here.

As historical novels they are well researched, and come with end notes as to the sources used. Druon may take the most dramatic interpretation of events, but he produces a comprehensive and compelling narrative. The grand sweep of events is conveyed, but very much as the result of human choices and actions.

I think we can see more to the origins of the Hundred Years War than just the machinations of Robert of Artois, but the idea of the interplay of individuals makes for compelling reading or viewing.

Image: notrecinema.com

I saw the series twice when it was shown on BBC in the 1970s and enjoyed it immensely, the period and topic being one I had studied a few years earlier as an undergraduate.

The director presented the novels rather as one might well stage Shakespeare's history plays - it is all studio based, with emphasis on the actors and the intricacies of  the twists and turns of the plot. So it is theatrical, but very stylish, with some splendid performances in a narrative rich in intrigue, double dealing and conspiracy, and replete with royalty, religion, sex and violence - and all in the middle ages  - what more could you possibly ask for?

What was, and remains striking was the panache with which the actors conveyed the medieval world - as a friend remarked at the time they wore their costumes as if these were the clothes they were used to wearing. You sensed you were witnessing medieval people, not modern people trying to appear as such.

The series is available on video and DVD, and is, I gather, infinitely preferable to the 2005 remake.

Now I can not only see it all again and in colour but I can carry it with me in my pocket and retreat to the early fourteenth century whenever I like.

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