The Divine Right of Kings
November 22, 2008 5:31 AM   Subscribe

The Devil's Whore is a tale set in the English Civil War about a fictional woman, Angelica Fanshawe, and how her life intersects with the real events and key figures of the time, including Charles I and Oliver Cromwell. (Featuring a welcome return to the small screen for John Simm as the mysterious Edward Sexby)

Not everyone likes it. This guy, for instance thinks that part of the £7m budget should have included better writers.

See for yourself: episode two clip
posted by chuckdarwin (31 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
*Dominic West Alert*
posted by boubelium at 5:39 AM on November 22, 2008

I watched the first episode by the magic of torrent and was a little disappointed to see obe of my personal heroes Col. Thomas Rainsborough being done as the po-faced fanatic (and come to think of it a bit of a tendency for the various characters to each be representative of types) but liked West as Cromwell and will be giving the rest a go.
There's a chapter on Sexby in Forlorn Hope: Soldier Radicals of the Seventeenth Century which has a bit more but I can't seem to find my copy at the minute.
posted by Abiezer at 5:49 AM on November 22, 2008

I watched for about five minutes while I was eating my tea, by the magic of my wife's incessant enthusiasm for costume drama and was really taken aback to see McNulty all dressed up as a Roundhead. Or a Cavalier. Or whichever the fuck side he was supposed to be on.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:55 AM on November 22, 2008

Not a member of the Sealed Knot there then, Peter? John Lilburne looked more like he'd be in the Battle of the Beanfield than Edge Hill. Never trust a seditious pamphleteer hippy.
posted by Abiezer at 6:11 AM on November 22, 2008

I will have to see this because otherwise I'll be drummed out of both the 17th century and the costume period drama fanclubs, but bad writing does scare me.
posted by jb at 6:12 AM on November 22, 2008

"while I was eating my tea"... a phrase that this US midwestener had to bounce around in his head for a while before it would settle down and make sense .... I get it, of course, but for those of us that consider "tea" a beverage and not a meal, the images were bazarre for minute or so...

/end derail
posted by HuronBob at 6:13 AM on November 22, 2008

Life is like a box of toffees?
posted by jefflowrey at 6:15 AM on November 22, 2008

Or whichever the fuck side he was supposed to be on

Oliver Cromwell never really knew which side he was supposed to be on, but he was about to drop a hell of a red ball on the Regicide Squad...
posted by GeckoDundee at 6:27 AM on November 22, 2008

Folks, I believe the bodice ripper you need with lush color and over the top drama is Forever Amber. After watching that clip, yes, better writers and for all that money why not eye popping color?
posted by jadepearl at 6:29 AM on November 22, 2008

And shouldn't Fanshawe be spelled Featherstonehaugh?
posted by Abiezer at 6:40 AM on November 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I kinda half-watched it and thought it was ok. It's repeated tonight so I'm going to give another go with my full attention. Malcolm Tucker as Charlie takes a bit of getting used to though
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:43 AM on November 22, 2008

Here's an article from the Guardian by Ronan Bennett about the real Rainsborough and Sexby.
posted by tiny crocodile at 6:45 AM on November 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also the write Peter Flannery, wrote one of the best things ever seen on British television - Our Friends In The North
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:49 AM on November 22, 2008

What would be a good way to point out that "English Civil War" is a very misleading label and that "Wars of the Three Kingdoms" is preferable?

I'm thinking heads on pikes.
posted by GeckoDundee at 7:03 AM on November 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's interesting the approach the writers have taken to this series. The Whig narrative of the civil wars as a major staging post on the road to liberal democracy has a remarkably strong hold, and to judge by the first episode The Devil's Whore is no exception. Despite the best efforts of historians, this narrative of the civil wars has stuck around from the 1680s until now and shows no signs of going away. Even this FPP is a good example of how it has stuck around. The title underlines an interpretation of the conflict as political, inspired by differing ideologies about how the country should be ruled; it's described as a civil war in the singular rather than civil wars, and as English rather than British or as a conflict of multiple kingdoms. Charles I and Oliver Cromwell are picked out as two rival combatants whereas Cromwell was a relatively minor figure until well after 1645. The linked book about the trial of Charles I and some of his regicides is itself part of this narrative. (By the way chuckdarwin this is no criticism at all of what is a really interesting FPP, I just couldn't resist unpicking it... :-)

But there is a good reason why this narrative has stuck around: it makes for a great story. And this is where I think the criticisms in the linked review have got it slightly wrong. Yes, of course you could produce a more historically accurate drama. There is plenty more to say about the civil wars which will undoubtedly be missed or skewed by the writers. But with the attractions of such an epic narrative, I can understand why they've gone down this route. It's a historical drama ultimately, not a history. Where the real criticism lies is that it's not a very good drama. From what I've seen, the characters are quite two-dimensional and in general I think it's a bit of a missed opportunity. But to lay into it because it gets details wrong is to miss the point a bit.
posted by greycap at 7:05 AM on November 22, 2008 [9 favorites]

That's fair comment greycap. I was set to thinking how hard it would be for a modern drama to give the religious aspects of the conflict their proper due - there's sops to it here and there in the dialogue of the one episode I've seen but doubtless you wouldn't be getting a prime-time disquisition on the imposition of a prayer book in Scotland.
Enjoyed Ronan Bennett's article tiny crocodile linked (this was his period as a history stude wasn't it?) and the mention he give to Kevin Brownlow's outstanding Winstanley. I saw the Making Of... for that as well and quite apart from how excellent the evocation of the man and his ideas in his time is, Brownlow could have taught them a thing or two about making great battle scenes and the rest on almost literally no budget.
posted by Abiezer at 7:20 AM on November 22, 2008

Not a member of the Sealed Knot there then, Peter?

I think it was when I first learned that Prince Rupert wasn't actually held in Prince Rupert's Tower that I lost all interest in it.

I think I'll probably give it another shot though. Good cast, if nothing else.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:13 AM on November 22, 2008

doubtless you wouldn't be getting a prime-time disquisition on the imposition of a prayer book in Scotland
Why on earth not?

Do it right or not at all. How can you ignore the covenanters?
posted by GeckoDundee at 8:20 AM on November 22, 2008

Why on earth not?
Because I think the conceit behind these costume dramas is that the people then are much like we are now, but in this respect we're utterly different. I'm not saying that they couldn't have included the events in Scotland in the plot somehow, but I think a drama that really did set out to explore the early modern religious mind and socio-political context would not be the sort of thing that got the bodice-ripper star cast treatment.
posted by Abiezer at 8:28 AM on November 22, 2008

And I did not even maketh thou feel like a harlot!
posted by Artw at 9:51 AM on November 22, 2008

When do the Waterhouses show up?
posted by The Whelk at 9:52 AM on November 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

I think this should have the Levellers in it - with dreadlocks and dogs on strings!
posted by Artw at 9:53 AM on November 22, 2008

It was fun watching Dominic West eat up the scenery. Also, John Simm.

Metafilter: by the magic.
posted by RockCorpse at 10:05 AM on November 22, 2008

Anyone here remember By the Sword Divided? It ran for three seasons on BBC1 when I was a teenager. That was 25 years ago, and I suspect it would look very old-fashioned if I saw it again today (though it's been issued on DVD so there must be a market for it). If memory serves, it was a very elitist treatment of the English Civil War, focusing on one upper-class family. (The eldest son runs off and joins Prince Rupert's cavalry regiment, while his swotty bespectacled cousin becomes an MP and eventually a regicide.) Still, it was very effective in presenting the Civil War as a matter of conscience -- even at 14 years old I grasped the idea that people fought and died in the Civil War because they genuinely believed in something.

Recent scholarship has made it clear that the Civil War (or WARS as you rightly point out, greycap: Scotland and Ireland very much on the map) wasn't just fought by the gentry and aristocracy. The lower orders (women as well as men) were actively involved as well, and had ideas of their own, and it's to the credit of The Devil's Whore that it seeks to reflect that. Even so, it's a pity that the programme-makers felt they had to invent an entirely imaginary female character to carry the story, when there are so many real women whose stories they might have told. (In their place I'd also have given a major role to Henry Marten, republican, regicide, atheist and freethinker. He and Cromwell are said to have playfully flicked each other with ink while they were waiting to sign the king's death warrant. Wikipedia piously describes Marten as 'a man of loose morals'; in fact he settled down very happily with a common-law wife, and his love-letters to her survive.)

Abiezer: you're right, of course, that a drama that set out to be strictly faithful to the latest historical scholarship would never have been commissioned in the first place. And if the bodice-ripping treatment gets 3 million people watching a drama about seventeenth-century history on a Wednesday evening, then (speaking as a seventeenth-century historian) I'm all for it. I just hope the steamy sex ('the alabaster-skinned, ruby-lipped and heavy-breasted Lady Angelica Fanshawe' .. phwoaar! you can practically hear the reviewer salivating) doesn't prevent it being watched by inquiring 14-year-olds such as I was in 1983. And I hope that viewers will at least get some sense of the Civil War as a clash of ideas and not just a clash of personalities.
posted by verstegan at 10:19 AM on November 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

True story: my ancestor John Okey was one of the Regicides.

(Umm.....sorry about that, England?)

After he was killed the rest of the fam beat a hasty retreat to the colonies. I'm planning to go visit his parish church & such when I go to the UK next year.
posted by at 10:48 AM on November 22, 2008

So does the 'devil' part refer to Cromwell, or the 'whore' part?
posted by Football Bat at 1:23 PM on November 22, 2008

"while I was eating my tea"... a phrase that this US midwestener had to bounce around in his head for a while before it would settle down and make sense

Heh -- I was visiting my British in-laws one afternoon when my mother-in-law asked the cats meowing in the kitchen "Do you want your tea now?" and I thought WHAT CRAZY COUNTRY IS THIS WHERE THEY SERVE HOT TEA TO CATS?

And this English Civil War -- is that the War of Scottish Aggression?
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 1:24 PM on November 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

And shouldn't Fanshawe be spelled Featherstonehaugh?
posted by Abiezer at 9:40 AM on November 22 [1 favorite +]

I dont knowe - those seventeenth centurie types were really into fonetic spellinge - onely with extraneous es.

As for the whole political aspect. Sure, it really was three different wars all intersecting (a Bishops War between the Scottish and the King, and then an Irish Rebellion against the English, and then a war between the King and the English Parliament) - but it really was a profoundly important moment for the development of English parliamentary government - and thus for all representational government in the English speaking world (since their institutions were influenced by or directly based on Westminster), and thus gone on to influence representational government all over the world. This was the moment - the time when England could have lost its old fashioned medieval parliament, and gone with a truly modern, progressive form of government - Absolutism. But it didn't, because a bunch of guys in kilts didn't like bishops and kings telling them how to pray, and a bunch of guys with bad haircuts didn't like kings sneaking taxes in the back way (and many other abuses, like pushing fen drainage, and disafforestation, and arresting MPs and generally doing what all the Tudors did but with less style and thus more offensively). And they took those violations of what they saw as the legitimate limits of kingship very seriously. (Sorry - can't remember what the Irish wanted. I did it all as English history, so I only remember the anti-Catholic propaganda.)

If the English war hadn't been fought - or if the Parliament had lost - England would have had a profoundly different government. And how long would parliaments have lasted in Scotland? They didn't last past 1707 as it was. Now, the Restoration did act as a reset button, and certainly most of the parliamentary sessions for Charles II were laid back (and kind of sheepish about that whole rebellion and regicide thing), at least for the first decade or so. But they were there, and they thought they should be there, and when they didn't agree with what the king (or his family) were doing, they got stroppy again and started stretching their muscles - wanting to disinheirit Charles II's Catholic brother (1678) and finally participating in a coup against the said brother (1688 - kicking James II out, and welcoming William III).

I've been teaching outside of my field lately - doing 20th century continental Europe, which is a long way from my lovely 17th century England. But while I was leading a discussion about the crisis of democracy and liberalism between the two world wars, I had a realization about why the British didn't a crisis over whether they should have parliaments or not. It's because they already did all that - in c1630-1660. The kids in the class probably think I'm just trying to insert my own time-period into the class, but I think it's true. So while the rest of Europe is groping towards parliamentary rule in the 19th century, the British are comfortable with it - and when there are crises and difficult times, parliamentary rule has enough legitimacy to survive its challenges. This was not true in Italy, Spain or Germany - and it was nearly not true in France.

I'm no Whig - and I would never say that the Parliamentarians of the 17th century were liberals or democrats in the 19th century sense (though those Levellers did voice opinions of remarkable foresight). But the preservation of this medieval institution - a kind of institution which had been eliminated in other countries such as France - meant that England, and later Britain and its offshoots, had at once an ancient and what would become a modern form of government.
posted by jb at 8:01 PM on November 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

True story: my ancestor John Okey was one of the Regicides.

(Umm.....sorry about that, England?)

There's many of us would thank you! Boswell's father says to Johnson something like "it reminded kings they had a joint in their neck," which is a neat summary of what jb writes I think.
posted by Abiezer at 8:28 PM on November 22, 2008

There's many of us would thank you! Boswell's father says to Johnson something like "it reminded kings they had a joint in their neck," which is a neat summary of what jb writes I think.
posted by Abiezer at 11:28 PM on November 22 [+] [!]

I'm not fond of chopping off heads - seems to me that often just leads to excessive bloodshed (especially when it extends to families). I'm much more fond of constitutional monarchies - or else sending the ex-prince into exile, as in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, or the Emperor of China (before he acted as a Japanese puppet in Manchuria). But exiled kings can become symbols over the water, and come back to lead disasterous rebellions.

But then, I think Canada has the perfect balance in government: an elegant head of state with nice hats - who looks great on the coins but mostly stays away (saves on the security and pomp). Then the politicians can go on being treated with the undeference they deserve.
posted by jb at 9:04 PM on November 22, 2008

Is there bodice-ripping? On a hay pile? Time indexes, please.
posted by CynicalKnight at 11:03 PM on November 22, 2008

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