Thursday, July 29, 2010

Historical Expectations

Shakespeare said it best: “Oft expectation fails, and most oft where it most promises…”
Thanks to my expectations, I can’t watch Pillars of the Earth.
For those of you without the Starz channel, Pillars of the Earth is an original miniseries based on Ken Follett’s novel of the same name. It tells the story of Prior Phillip fighting seemingly insurmountable odds to build a cathedral while England falls into anarchy around him.
The channel promoted the miniseries for a month or so before the first episode aired July 23. And I was readyon the couch with my soda and snack. And the series began with the burning of the White Ship.
The White Ship didn’t burn.
For those who didn’t make an academic career out of studying the 12th century, on Nov. 25, 1120, the White Ship hit a submerged rock just north of the Barfleur harbor and sank. It was dark, likely cold and most of the ship’s inhabitants were intoxicated. All but one drown, including England’s prince, the only legitimate son of King Henry I.
The loss of a direct heir plunged England into 19 years of civil war and anarchy after the king’s death as rival claimants fought for the throne and no one ruled.
As a historian, it’s a rich time period to study.
As a novelist, I get creative license (and have been known to take a few liberties with historical figures myself).
As a viewer, I understand that an opening shot of dark seas against a dark sky isn’t the grab you-by-the-gut image filmmakers want. I even enjoy Heath Ledger’s medieval romp, A Knight’s Tale.
So why did the burning of the White Ship bother me so much?
Expectations set by the “making of” video.
Those connected with the project talked ad nauseam about the effort that went into making it historically accurate. From the sets to the costumes to the mud in the streets, no detail was seemingly overlooked. So I naturally expected above average attention to all the facts, including the inciting incident: the sinking of the White Ship.
More than likely, I’ll try to watch it again, and when I do, I’ll just keep telling myself that it’s not about the history.


Stephanie Burkhart said...

That's what I have to tell myself when I watch "The Tudors." It's always a disappointment when something you love, is brought to life, but it's not historically accurate.

Smiles & Hugs

Curling up by the Fire said...

I have the same problem myself, which is why I still haven't seen The Pillars of the Earth (loved the book) and have only ever watched Braveheart ONCE and will never watch it again. I have to be in a certain mood to be able to separate the story from the history. You know what I mean?

Keena Kincaid said...

I know exactly what you mean, Stephanie. I've been working up to watching it, telling myself that if nothing else it'll be good to see the costumes. :-)

Steph, I share your disappointment with the Tudors, although it's so wildly inaccurate, it's almost as campy as A Knight's Tale. I remember the scene where Margaret suffocated her royal husband and then runs off with Brandon (who wouldn't run off him Henry Cavill?) I laughed.

Gabriele Campbell said...

I have that problem with Rome. I know everyone raves how great the series is, but it's not only the historical liberties - I could live with those for the sake of a good story - it's the way ALL the characters, even patrician women talk and behave like street whores. That's not gritty realism, that's lack of understanding a time.