Saturday, July 25, 2020

More praise for The Devil's Crown

Reasoning I could not be the only person with fond memories of the 1978 BBC drama series The Devil's Crown, I took to Google. This is what I found.

There is a whole podcast devoted to the series by The Benji and Nick Show, but it's not very good. It suffers from the common broadcaster's delusion that they are more interesting than their subject matter - it's known as Jonathan Agnew Syndrome - so feel free to skip the first 35 minutes.

The Television Heaven page on The Devil's Crown is better:
It seems to have been a deliberate attempt to copy the I, Claudius formula for success: a basically accurate dramatisation of historical events, albeit with a sensationalist interpretation; a strong cast, even if some of the names were not yet well known; a literate script; and a close eye on the budget. 
While not scaling the heights of I, Claudius, it works well on those terms. It is better drama than the Beeb's earlier historical dramas and better history than its later ones. 
Its greatest strength is its concept, the true story of the early Plantagenet Kings of England, Henry II and his rebellious sons, the 'Devil's Brood.' It is a story so dramatic as to require little sensationalising. Indeed the facts are so astonishing that it is sometimes necessary to be sparing with them in case they seem too unlikely.
Then there's conradbrunstrom:
Yes, two years after I Claudius, the BBC produced another sprawling historical drama about a dynasty with absolutely no moral compass. Like I Claudius, it is studio bound and all the better for it. 
Unlike I Claudius, it has dramatic antecedents in that it’s a pageant play and accordingly makes innovative use of medieval illustrative techniques.  Perspective is several centuries away and everything looks appropriately and decoratively fake.  This is a world without “depth” as we understand it.   This drama thus fulfills my nostalgic need for television drama that aspires to the condition of theatre rather than film.  It is devoted to very twelfth-century aesthetic that is as eerie as it is beautiful.

The Devil’s Crown also anticipates EastEnders in that it depicts the most horrific and dysfunctional family Christmases imaginable.
Most enthusiastic of all is The Venetian Vase:
I would rank The Devil’s Crown among the very best of television dramas that were made in the period. It’s compelling, intriguing and often moving. Brian Cox himself described the show as ‘very ahead of its time’. 
However, there are flaws, and not just the lull in the episodes focusing on Richard which I mentioned. Memorably, all historical TV dramas during this period were shot on set, even the exterior scenes. The BBC just did not have the money to stage big battles or build convincing sets of castles and the like. 
It could lead to some imaginative storytelling as the sets were quite malleable. On being told that Louis VII has married Constance of Castile, Henry, then in Normandy, sees it happening before his eyes on the same set. 
There are downsides. For some outdoor scenes they simply paint the floor green and the walls blue. A modern audience especially might find this jarring. 
The Devil’s Crown may have been commissioned following the success of I Claudius, indeed there are some striking parallels between the two stories. 
A wise and mostly benevolent monarch Henry II/Augustus is undermined during his long reign by his scheming and cunning wife Eleanor of Aquitaine/Livia who strongly favours her son for the succession Richard/Tiberius who ultimately is more suited to soldiering than leadership and has a brief and unhappy reign. The parallels only go so far, however, as Eleanor of Aquitaine is just not as malevolent as the arch-villainess Livia. 
There were several historical dramas made during the period that tried to follow the I Claudius model of political intrigue and murder in a Royal Court. The Borgias and The Cleopatras were both panned for being lurid as they lacked the benevolent central character that Derek Jacobi’s Claudius provided, the stammering, much-mocked boy who grows up to become historian and Emperor. 
The Devil’s Crown also suffers a little in comparison to I Claudius, but ultimately it’s a drama that deserves to be judged on its own merits of which there are many. This is a fascinating rendering of a very complex and brutal period of history. 
I’m delighted to have seen it after first hearing of it a few years ago. It now belongs to television history. I hope that it finally reaches the wider audience it deserves.
You can watch the whole of The Devil's Crown on YouTube and listen to its suitably medieval theme music, recorded off air by the sound of it, above.

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