I’m not much of a historian; which is why I judged myself as a good candidate to review this show. It’s the first of a 3-part documentary series detailing the events and tensions that led up to the Battle of Hastings in the infamous year of 1066.
Dan Snow presents the documentary – a mix of dramatic re-enactments, historian interviews and playful role-plays that showcase the political tensions between England, Normandy and Norway after the death of English King Edward the Confessor in early 1066. The supposedly “illegitimate” King Harold (Adam James) is then crowned almost immediately after. Duke William of Normandy (Ed Stoppard) is outraged, believing the English crown is his. Meanwhile in Norway, Viking King Harald Hardrada (Clive Russell) fancies invading England once again too, because that’s basically just what Vikings do.
The fact that the programme focuses on the build-up to the Battle rather than just the Battle itself makes it all the more immersive to learn about. You absorb all the tangents of revenge, passion, ego and entitlement that make everyone bother to get involved in this battle- rather than the tried and tested explanation of: “country X wanted more land”. It’s like watching a real life Game Of Thrones, with less boobs and dragons.
One thing that always bored me about secondary school history was how impersonal it always seemed… like a barrage of fancy names that all fought each other because that’s just what you did back then. The show successfully portrays all those involved as multi-dimensional characters with multiple motives for their actions: power, betrayal, money, death and pride. Brilliant and terrifying performances from its actors make this a gripping series that I can’t wait to see more of! I mean… I know how it’s going to end, which is a bit lame- but that’s how non-fiction works. At least there are no spoilers?
1066: A Year to Conquer England is on BBC Two at 21.00 on Tuesdays.