Friday, 21 November 2008

The Devil's Whore

The English Civil War and 17th Century radicalism are something of an obsession for me. So I had to watch Channel 4’s new mini-series The Devil’s Whore.

Historical Dramas tend to be the stuff of Sunday evening viewing – a bit of Jane Austen or Thomas Hardy with performing costumes filled by familiar faces from soaps providing non-threatening comfort viewing for Middle England. Of course of late there have been a few honourable exceptions:

The Devil’s Whore is certainly not comfort viewing. It has just the amount of bodice-ripping and sword play not to be overly-worthy. But it also goes beyond the familiar image of romantic Cavaliers and kill-joy Roundheads that we are usually fed. It engages with the Big Ideas of the time – and of today - democracy, freedom of expression and the struggle between rich and poor.

And it gets the period details pretty much correct too – visually you can’t really tell the two sides apart – maybe slightly lacier collars for the Royalists and less curls for the Parliament men. No puritan primness either. Both sides are a lot lustier and earthier than the Victorians historians who gave us most of those misconceptions of the era – and probably more so than the usual costume drama audience today.

But most importantly it reclaims this – the most important period in English history – and places it centre stage.

In the US there is a strong tradition of the Western – it has developed from the ‘white hat goodies’ v ‘black hat badies’ of the Gary Cooper era to the gritty revisionism of HBO’s Deadwood. But there is never any question that the mythology of The Western, despite the violence and genocide of the real thing, is a central part of the American story.

On the other hand in this country the equivalent formative part of our history has been airbrushed out. Hearing the ideas of Rainsborough, Lillburne and Saxby in The Devil’s Whore and you can see why – they are still revolutionary today.

It also manages to make Charles 1st look like a bit of a twat. And a complete bastard too. Enjoy.

1 comment:

David said...

Enjoying this too, although I missed a couple of episodes. It's got a decent script and some good performances although at times the direction verges on glossy ad - when 'the devils whore' glides up a staircase to see her revolutionary lover (as a wealthy aristocrat his zeal stretched my credibility despite everything Christopher Hill tells us) it reminded me of nothing less than the Scottish Widows campaign. Would pay cash to see Walton-on-Thames dug up by Maoist labourers so have emotional investment in this one.