Friday, 12 December 2014

The Dan Jones episode on the Plantagenets I've been waiting for.........

Last night, Channel 5 showed the episode I'd been waiting for in Dan Jones' series on the Plantagenets - a whole episode devoted to Edward II.   I started watching with low expectations - but was surprised at how good it was!  Straight away, the focus was on Edward's relationship with Piers Gaveston.  We're told Edward's first act of his reign was to re-call 'his mate' Piers Gaveston - one of the 'finest knights in the kingdom'.  Off to a good start!  Jones talked about Edward's obsession with Piers without going into the nature of the their relationship at the start.   He pointed out the obsession cost him the respect of his barons, particularly his cousin Thomas of Lancaster.  I was pleased to see Jones make the point that Edward married the 'child bride' Isabella of France, which is exactly what she was.  He repeats the story of the bad behaviour of Edward and Piers at the Coronation banquet - Piers wearing royal purple, banners with the arms of Edward and Piers on them - and says Isabella's relatives were insulted.  But we do not get Piers being given all the wedding gifts - phew!


Jones also says Thomas of Lancaster started 'a whispering campaign' against Piers, stealing money from the treasury and taking it out of the country.  Thankfully, Jones says Piers was undoubtedly innocent - he might have been arrogant and insulting, but he was no thief.  Jones makes it clear in this episode is all about 'personal revenge', and when discussing the Ordinances, says it might all sound as if the barons were trying to make a stand for justice against the king, when in fact it was a personal vendetta against Piers - and mentions clause 20, which calls for his banishment.   It's now that Jones discusses the nature of the relationship between Edward and Piers.  Jones says Edward was undoubtedly obsessed with Piers, and they may well have been lovers.  But it wasn't this that offended the barons - it was Edward's excessive favouring of Piers and Piers influence.  Jones skims over Piers' 2 exiles during Edward's reign - we hear nothing of his exile in Ireland.  Instead, we get the final exile and recall by Edward, who was basically 'painting a target' on Piers' back.  Jones says Edward was fixated on what would happen right now, than what would happen in the future, or the consequences of his actions.


The siege at Scarborough and Piers' capture is missed out - instead we have Piers a prisoner at Warwick castle, (there's very little mention of Guy of Warwick, it's all Thomas of Lancaster), with no trial and sentenced to death - Jones calls it 'political murder'.  We cut to a scene at Gaveston's Cross.  Jones says typically Edward doesn't blame himself, he blames Piers at first, then Lancaster.  That's a bit harsh in my opinion, as Edward no doubt lashed out in grief when he made the comment about Piers.  All in all, I was quite happy with Jones' interpretation.


The rest of the episode was mixed. We see Edward taking 'personal revenge' on Thomas of Lancaster, committing 'political murder' in not allowing Lancaster a fair trial - I think Jones failed to see the parallel that Edward treated Thomas as he had treated Piers.  I did like his point though about Lancaster letting Edward down at Bannockburn because he didn't want Edward to have anything that would make him successful.  We have the scene where Isabella's children 'are ripped from her' - by the nasty, snarling Hugh Despencer, complete with small sobbing children, and are told they were placed in the care of Despencer's wife - without mentioning his wife is actually their relative, Edward's niece, Eleanor.   Jones piles on the sympathy for Isabella - after all she has done for her husband, this was how he repaid her - hmmmmm.   Then we get Isabella in France immediately becoming lovers with Roger Mortimer and plotting her husband's downfall, her 'personal revenge'.  Sympathy for Isabella soon vanishes however, as we get a full description, and as much as can be acted out, of Hugh Despencer's execution - how near Isabella was to his suffering, and how she ate as she watched. 


Jones then tells us what happens to Edward II - sent to Berkley Castle where he was murdered with - yes - a red hot poker, and we're shown as much as possible of the horrific scene.  But hang on, Jones then demolishes this story, saying it appeared years after Edward's death, and that the method made too good a story for a possibly gay king receiving his 'just punishment'.  So good a story that Channel 5 decided to show a scene of it!  Unfortunately, there's no discussion of Edward's possible survival.


So, to sum up - this episode was a lot better than I expected, and dominated by Jones' theory of 'personal revenge'.  I'm not quite sure about the use of actors to dramatise each episode - particularly as they always speak French and we have to have the subtitles underneath.  I'm sure viewers could cope with being told the language of the court was French without having them actually speak in French.  Oh, and the actors playing Piers and Edward looked absolutely nothing like I thought they'd look, but I guess that's a minor detail;)

3 comments:

Kathryn Warner said...

Great review! I've seen most of it now on Demand 5 and was also pleasantly surprised - was a lot better than I was expecting.The only thing I really disliked was, as you mention, Isabella's children being 'ripped' from her. I really do wish this tiresome myth would die -it's only an invention of Paul Doherty, who also invented the notion that Hugh Despenser sexually assaulted Isabella (was so relieved that Jones did't mention that one).

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

I am happy for you both, Anerje and Kathryn, and for His Majesty and Piers
:-) The photo of Mr Jones was misleading, after all :-)

Anerje said...

Kathryn - so glad you managed to see it!

Kasia - I think Channel 5 were out to sensationalise the series. It's a way to draw in viewers.