don’t know your European history, here’s a chance to brush up: ‘The Dark
Ages,’ a feature-length documentary from the History Channel, sets out
to document and summarise one of the most formative periods in the
of this program is very large. It takes into account the slow
destruction of the Roman Empire, and then relates the events of the next
several centuries, including the incredible comeback made by the
Byzantines, and the later invasions of Vikings and steppe tribesmen.
is told in a no-nonsense manner by narrator RJ Allison, with the aid of
lavish CGI maps and timelines. Each period in time is depicted with the
use of actors, often working with elaborate props and sets. Everything
is given a suitably grimy and grainy appearance, in keeping with the
tone of the subject matter.
acted scenes are interspersed with comments from experts in European
history, who are always ready to chime in with an intriguing, humorous
or downright gruesome bit of information. We are introduced to torture
methods with such creatively macabre names as ‘The bloody eagle,’ or
‘the ordeal.’ And just in case you’re wondering, those are just as gory
as they sound.
does a good job of stripping away whatever romantic notions you might
have had about medieval Europe: In reality, we are told, Knights were
not chivalrous gentlemen but thuggish mercenaries. And the purpose of
stone castles was less about protecting the kingdom and more about
intimidating the local farmers.
structure of the narrative can be erratic, because it has a habit of
jumping from one century to another and then back again, in pursuit of
some tangent or another. Thankfully things becomes less excited and more
logical later on, and the show becomes easier to watch.
bonus feature is an exploded look at an area that was only briefly
touched in the main program: The Plague. This episode continues in the
same format as ‘The Dark Ages,’ although it has received a slightly
lower-budget treatment. For some reason they’ve opted to go for a
narrator who sounds like he should be doing the voice-over for a B-Grade
horror movie instead of a serious documentary, but there is still some
valuable (if grisly) information to be gleaned.
‘The Dark Ages’ offers an encyclopaedic look at a
very turbulent period of history. It tells its story plainly and
honestly, sticking to the barest of facts. It has a lot of informative
value, and should appeal to anyone with a keen interest in history.
Although I probably wouldn’t watch it over dinner.