5 Actors Who Can’t Keep Away From History

While everyone else is banging on about gerbils this week, I thought it would be nice to blog about the Oscars. I’ve been particularly thinking about the way that certain actors crop up in historical (and fantasy) films and TV shows over and over. It’s like they can’t get enough of the swish outfits. Here is my pick of the bunch:

Keira Knightley

At some point, fairly early on in her career, Knightley threw on a massive frock, thought ‘My god, I look fabulous’, and never looked back. Her roles to date include Pirates of the Caribbean, King Arthur, Atonement, The Duchess, Silk, Pride and Prejudice, and The Imitation Game.


James Purefoy

You’ll probably remember him as the Black Prince in A Knight’s Tale, or as Marc Antony in HBO’s ‘Rome’, but he also just loves to appear in dodgy straight-to-DVD movies, including Ironclad, and George and The Dragon. Other appearances include Sharpe, Vanity Fair, Solomon Kane, and basically anything where he can wear a huge collar.

James Purefoy Vanity Fair

Russell Crowe

A man who is at his most comfortable when he’s wearing at least one layer of leather, Crowe’s resume includes starring roles in Gladiator, Master and Commander, 3:10 to Yuma, Robin Hood, Les Miserables, and last (and probably, let’s be honest, least) Noah. This is a man who’s not happy if he’s not rewriting history.

Russell Crowe Robin HoodCate Blanchett

If there’s one thing that needs to be stated for the record, Blanchett *owns* Queen Elizabeth. When she’s not busy portraying the body of a weak and feeble woman and the heart of a king, she spends most of her time chilling with Gandalf and the rest of the White Council. Her projects include Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the aforementioned Robin Hood, and the new Jungle Book movie.

Elizabeth Cate Blanchett

Johnathan Pryce

Possibly thanks to the fact that he bears an uncanny resemblance to the incumbent Pope, Pryce spent the summer of 2014 playing religious leaders in major TV series. In Wolf Hall he was Cardinal Wolsey, while in the upcoming fifth season of Game of Thrones, he will portray the High Sparrow. He has also appeared in Pirates of the Caribbean, Cranford, The Brothers Grimm, and the Adventures of Baron Munchausen.


A @Channel4 special: Time Team vs Restoration Man

Time Team Vs Restoration Man

My partner recently introduced me to Channel 4’s Restoration Man, and in return, I introduced her to Channel 4’s Time Team. It was an interesting trade. Restoration Man plugs neatly into my love of Grand Designs-style building shows, with a neat historic element. The GF was a little more suspicious of Time Team, arguing that it was slow, and uninspiring.

Frankly, this was unacceptable. I have lived in houses where Time Team was the regular evening viewing. I’ve dug on one of their sites. I have friends who were tutored by show veterans. When it was finally cancelled, after 20 seasons, we were in mourning. Hell, some of my favourite Twitter conversations have been with an anthropomorphized trademark item of sweat-encrusted headgear (with over 5,000 followers).

So yeah, you could say I’m an advocate – probably even a fan – and I’m certainly not alone.

How do they compare?

The surprising thing about both shows is that they can both end pretty unsatisfactorily. Because restorations can take several years to complete, Restoration Man rarely sees the end of a project in a single season. Shows end without really explaining the final outcome for homeowners.

Likewise, Time Team can spend three days on a dig and come away with little more than a few animal bones and a few hasty CGI animations of what they *might* have found if they’d had more time. Despite all this, the stories really do draw you in. Hell, it might even be the un-polished nature of the shows that makes them that much more believable.

That’s not to say they don’t deviate from this for the sake of narrative. The Restoration Man has a ridiculous over-acted scene every episode where he retreats to some library to research the building in question. Doubts about the project are over-egged for the audience’s sake. Likewise, the three-day time frame for Time Team’s digs adds a weird sense of urgency. Will they uncover the whole story by the end of the episode?

Which is better?

I never promised to be objective here, but Time Team still holds that special place in my heart. It trumps Restoration Man by the fact that it has so many more experts involved. The fact that it only takes them three days to film an episode (instead of three years) makes a big difference too.

A reality TV show set #10000BC

This week I watched Channel 5’s new reality TV show, 10,000 BC. I normally dislike reality TV, so I wasn’t expecting a whole lot. But that’s pretty much what this blog is all about, so I put myself on the line for you guys. And, for what it’s worth, the show isn’t completely awful. Yet.

I know it’s fashionable among historians to rinse the poor rubes who ‘represented a cross-section of 21st-century Britain’ for sounding like clueless idiots. But then most of the historians I know would be more comfortable surrounded by books and bottles of gin than the era they actually study. I did an online quiz once that said I would do really well in Ancient Rome, but it never asked whether I could actually speak Latin. So who are we to cast aspersions?

As Digventures rightly points out, the show is more about how ‘normal’ modern people get on than about the actual time period itself. After all, you chuck a bunch of strangers together, in a survival situation, with none of the native skills, it’s going to be more of a social experiment than a reflection of a historic reality.

If you want to know what the latter would’ve looked like, check this 13-month experiment out:

Unlike other shows in a similar bracket, the ‘tribe’ mint a leader pretty quickly and don’t really argue too much. Two people leave in the first episode, but not a whole load of fuss is made about it. Other channels would’ve hammed things up a bit in order to make it more emotional. So yeah, I can’t complain about it too much. But if the trailer for the next show is anything to go by, it will shed viewers who are interested in the historical side pretty quickly. Maybe it’s for the best.