Sunday, August 22, 2010

Now Showing - "Black Adder: The Foretelling"

As history the first episode in the first series of Blackadder functions almost as well as William Shakespeare's Richard III (meaning accuracy matters less here than entertainment); fortunately, as entertainment it succeeds beautifully. Entitled The Foretelling, it stars Rowan Atkinson as Edmund Blackadder, Tony Robinson as Baldrick, and special guest star Peter Cook as Richard III. Written by Atkinson and Richard Curtis, it originally aired in June 1983.

Having overslept (and thus nearly missed the Battle of Bosworth Field) the hapless Prince Edmund hurries thence; along the way he discovers someone trying to steal his horse, and kills him. The fact that this someone is swathed in ermine and royal purple, wearing a helmet with three feathers on it, and generally looking exactly like the King means nothing to this dull plodder, who only realizes too late that he's committed yet another cock-up. Hilarity (if not exactly history) ensues...

This segment features Elspet Gray as the entirely fictional (although altogether probable) Gertrude of Flanders, Edmund's mother and a Belgian nymphomaniac to boot; it also boasts a fine example of the superb yelling skills of Brian Blessed, who at the end of it is crowned King Richard IV - rather than Perkin Warbeck or Richard of Shrewsbury, 1st Duke of York (one of the unlucky Princes in the Tower whom history tells us died at the hands of Richard III) instead his childless uncle's protege and heir.

Despite heaping ill-begotten honours upon himself by generally weaselly means, the misfortunes just keep piling up for Prince Edmund; not only does the wealthy man he's nursing back to health for the reward money turn out to be Henry Tudor, he's suddenly haunted by the headless ghost of the dead King, who keeps calling him Edna. I just hate it when that happens...

In the end, of course, Edmund manages to slither out of things pretty neatly, bumbling through history for a total of 27 classic episodes in all. As the action closes on the first chapter, Edmund is summoned to a misty moor by three witches, who foretell of his one day becoming King. To see if he succeeds, well, you'll just have to spend a mere 13 and a half hours watching the entire clever schamozzle unfold...
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Pop History Moment: The Battle of Bosworth Field (1485)

On this day in 1485, Richard III lost both his crown and his life, and England gained its most English Royal Family ever, overturning four centuries of French cultural dominance in the British Isles. History is fraught with decisive moments, but few of them have had the impact on British culture - and especially British pop culture - that the Battle of Bosworth Field has...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketFor instance, the reign of Henry VII is generally credited as the genesis of the English Renaissance, a flowering of the arts fostered both by his son, Henry VIII and his granddaughter Elizabeth I*. In addition to theatre, innovations in music, painting, and architecture marked the Tudor Age. In the modern day, of course, the Tudors are somewhat more than a cottage industry - they're a palace industry, you might say - with tours and souvenirs helping to fill the insatiable demand wrought by television, movies, and books about them.

Naturally, as the creation myth of the House of Tudor, the Battle of Bosworth Field features prominently in the art and culture of the era as well; the action in William Shakespeare's Richard III (c.1591) naturally centres around the battle. The play is one of Bosworth's more famous representations, and in true Shakespearean style, functions better as mythology than history. The Bard, eager to curry favour with his Queen, lays it on as thick in his defamation of Richard III as he trowels treacle into his portrayal of Henry VII.

In the 1955 film version, Laurence Olivier portrayed Richard III, and Stanley Baker played the future Henry VII; a 1995 version starring Ian McKellan as Richard and Dominic West as Henry both masterfully and stylishly set the play in a fictional Nazi England of the 1930s. For those with a slightly more comic bent, the Battle also features in the first episode of Blackadder 1, entitled The Foretelling.

*And even, to an extent, under Mary I, since great art tends to flourish best in the most repressive times.

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POPnews - August 22nd

[Although hostilities in the English Civil War wouldn't begin in earnest for another two months - at the Battle of Edgehill on October 23rd - both sides had been massing their forces for months when the King's provocative actions on this day in 1642 would prove the last straw for Parliament... In addition to the conflict itself (which was devastating enough) the Civil War had at least one consequence which still resonates today; after His Majesty stormed out of the House of Commons chamber for the last time following a set-to with Speaker William Lenthall in January 1642 no sovereign has ever entered it again!]

392 CE - Arbogast had Eugenius elected Western Roman Emperor.

476 CE
- Odoacer was proclaimed King of Italy by his troops after riding into Rome on his way to depose the Western Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, who was then in residence at Ravenna; many historians feel that Odoacer's election marks the end of the Roman Empire in Europe, as well as the beginning of the Middle Ages or medieval period, although in reality the Roman Empire had either been falling for some time and/or wouldn't fall for another fifteen centuries...

565 CE - St. Columba reported the first sighting of a monster in the River Ness - which itself flows into the more famous Loch Ness which gives the monster its moniker.

851 CE - Erispoe defeated Charles the Bald at the Battle of Jengland, near the Breton town of Jengland.

1138 - At the Battle of the Standard near the Yorkshire village of Northallerton the Scottish forces of King David I were repelled by English commander William of Aumale, whose smaller force decimated their opposition... The Scottish King had invaded England to support his niece Matilda's claim to the throne (as the only surviving direct descendant of William the Conqueror in the paternal line) over that of King Stephen, during a period of English history known as The Anarchy.

1639 - The Indian city of Madras (now called Chennai) was founded by the British East India Company after it bought a sliver of land on India's east coast from local Nayak rulers.

1642 - Still outraged by the Long Parliament's Grand Remonstrance of December 1641 and a threat by the House of Commons to impeach Queen Henrietta Maria, after England's King Charles I proclaimed Parliamentary forces to be traitors as he raised his standard outside Nottingham Castle, and the first English Civil War began...

1654 - Jacob Barsimson arrived in New Amsterdam (later New York City), making him among the first Jewish settlers in America.

1770 - Captain James Cook's expedition landed on Possession Island, off the coast of New South Wales, Australia; it was here that Cook formally claimed the coastlines of Queensland and New South Wales for Great Britain.

1791 - A slave rebellion began in the town of Saint-Domingue which would eventually lead to the creation of Haiti as the world's first black republic under Toussaint Louverture.

1827 - José de La Mar became President of Peru for the second time.

1851 - The first America's Cup was won by the yacht America.

1864 - Following the signing of the first Geneva Convention, the Red Cross was created. The Geneva Convention was most recently in the news in January 2002 when White House Counsel (and future US Attorney-General) Alberto Gonzales mocked it as 'quaint'.

1901 - The Cadillac Motor Company was founded.

1922 - Irish revolutionary Michael Collins was shot and killed during an ambush in Ireland's County Cork.

1926 - Gold was discovered near Johannesburg.

1932 - The BBC began conducting experiments with television broadcasting.

1950 - Althea Gibson broke the colour barrier in tennis, competing with whites at the US Open.

1973 - Henry Kissinger was named Secretary of State by US President Richard Nixon.
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