The Biggest Problem With Wolf Hall? All the Time Jumping

Wolf Hall

It has been a busy week; Martin Luther King day, the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, and everything in between. However, as you’ve already figured from the title of this blog, I was only focussed on one thing.

My views on the Tudors are pretty common knowledge, so I’ll skip straight to the point. Wolf Hall had its first episode last night. It is one of the highest budget costume drama series the BBC has aired, and has received so much promotion that it is being called ‘event television’. But is it worth the hype? Well, not yet…

As with many series, Wolf Hall suffers from a slow start. But unlike those others, it doesn’t have a dozen episodes to build up and potential future series to get into. Hilary Mantell’s books will be fodder for just 6 episodes. In this respect they might’ve done better to take cues from BBC One’s excellent Sherlock.

Wolf Hall
That classic blank face we saw so much of.

But the real problem is all the skips in time. It seems like the story jumps 20 years back, 18 years forward, two months back, three weeks forward. The Telegraph’s John Walton called it ‘an artful if slightly confusing set of flashbacks’. He’s being generous; it’s artless. Beyond the annoying titles, there’s no real way to distinguish between the different eras.

I think the problem here is Mantell’s own slavish adherence to history – not normally a criticism I’d lay at anyone’s door. The author has researched the period so heavily that I feel like she’s lost sight of the linear nature of time. The other side to this criticism is that Mantell was so keen to stick to the script that she demanded the producers stick to her script. This may not have been the best treatment for the small screen.

I don’t necessarily think the casting was bad, but the acting was. In the first episode Johnathan Pryce’s Cardinal Wolsey is a key character, alongside Mark Rylance’s Cromwell. The trouble is, both characters seem to be the personification of ‘mild-mannered’. Even at the height of their emotional turmoil, both were little more than a glaze of wrinkles.

In contrast, Damian Lewis’ Henry VIII was highly anticipated, and delivers with a sizzle. The Duke of Norfolk was also pretty sassy. Bernard Hill hasn’t rocked so hard since he led a Rohirrim cavalry charge into the ranks of an Uruk Hai army in LOTR: Two Towers.

My mind is not completely made up on this thing. It could go either way. But so far, I’m not impressed. More action, faster cutting, and more emotional involvement are called for, and fast!

Things We Did To History In 2014

Dracula Untold

This was the year I started this blog and, looking at how popular it has been, I think it was a good time to do so. 2014 has been a very interesting year for history. We really won’t just let it stay in the past. We insist on bringing it up again and again, and we don’t mind distorting it for our own entertainment. With that in mind, I thought it might be interesting to run down the top 12 posts of the last year for your consumption.

#12 American food in Lord of the Rings

This February blog argued that, if Middle Earth is supposed to be set in prehistoric Europe, the tomatoes, potatoes and pumpkins are completely out of place. What’s more, strictly speaking, it probably should be cannabis they are smoking, not tobacco.

Radagast the Brown gets high
If ‘Old Toby’ was really just tobacco, would it have this affect?

#11 Counterfactual histories are *so* hot right now

When it comes to history in popular culture, counterfactual histories (which did not happen, and would’ve changed the course of history if they had) are pretty damn popular. Don’t be surprised if we revisit this topic later. Hat tip to Alternate History for linking to this article.

Assassin's Creed I's Altair
Assassin’s Creed I’s Altair

#10 Chatting with Brick to the Past

2014 has also been the year of the Lego brick, with the franchise releasing a major blockbuster this year. In much the same spirit, I had a conversation with James Pegrum, who specialises in building historical Lego models. Since that conversation, he has set up a group, called Brick to the Past, and they go from strength to strength.

I’m a firestarter by James Pegrum
I’m a firestarter – courtesy of James Pegrum – the Great Fire of London begins

#9 Interviewing Mr Happle Tea: Scott Maynard

We are very lucky to have spoken to a large number of creative history fans this year. One man who embodies this trait is Scott Maynard, the illustrator behind the Happle Tea web comic. If you’re into crude humour and interesting historical facts, this is the place for you.

Horus gets The Talk
With a back-story like this, who needs childhood trauma?

#8 The time that cinema forgot

As someone who is interested in film and history, I can’t help but notice that some time periods just don’t get the same kind of coverage that others do. In this blog, I got all analytical and worked out exactly *how* neglected those periods are. Verdict? There’s plenty of scope for more films throughout our earlier history, but that imbalance isn’t likely to be fixed any time soon.

graph showing that recent history is far more popular as a film subject than older topics
Prehistory is particularly neglected

#7 Historical Honey tells us what historical figures would be doing now

Bored with modern celebrities? The lovely Historical Honey gave us a guest blog about what the heroes and villains of our past would get up to if they were around today. Would they slink to the shadows? Or are they more likely to grab the limelight, ever the attention grabber? What do you think?

What would Lucezia Borgia be doing now?
Is this what Lucezia Borgia would be doing now?

#6 Anne Boleyn is my spirit animal

One thing that I definitely needed to address this year is just why Anne Boleyn is so popular with the world of web historians. Because she is. If historians anywhere need a figurehead, this woman is, apparently, the one to go for. Thanks again to Historical Honey for the inspiration.

Anne Boleyn
Natalie Portman’s Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl

#5 Profiling the most influential wizard in the modern age

Alan Moore is, primarily, a graphic novelist. But he’s also a wizard, and a cult icon, and he really doesn’t like it when people get taken advantage of. So when he cropped up in the news twice in one week, in historically-related areas, I figured it was only fair we had a look at him, and why he matters.

This is Alan Moore in 2009. He's speaking at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, but I like to think he's rolling his lucky D20. Published under Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA 2.0, courtesy of Matt Bidulph https://www.flickr.com/people/51035707449@N01
This is Alan Moore in 2009. He’s speaking at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, but I like to think he’s rolling his lucky D20. Published under Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA 2.0, courtesy of Matt Bidulph https://www.flickr.com/people/51035707449@N01

#4 Vampires; what history wouldn’t say if it could speak

If there’s one vaguely-historical thing the public loves, it’s vampires. They’ve got that whole neck-nibbling thing going on. What with them being immortal, any film, TV series, or game that features them could quite justifiably see itself heading into the past at some point. But how helpful are vampires as a medium for history?

Dracula Untold
Dracula as he probably never looked

#3 That time I interviewed a YouTube sensation

Epic Rap Battles of History is an important part of modern culture, inasmuch as it teaches young people about important historical figures through the medium of confrontational music and aggressive posturing. With that in mind, I felt it was only appropriate to get one of the show’s creators in to discuss the hows and whys of the show.

 

#2 Someone we should all know more about

Janine Spendlove is a high school history teacher/US Marine/pilot/published author/mother/historical cosplayer. While all of those things are pretty impressive, and combined they’re are totally awesome, it was that last one that particularly interested us. We had a chat with the woman behind the outfits to find out how she does it.

Janine's Wonder Woman costume
Janine’s Wonder Woman costume

#1 When feminist satire ruled history

By far my most popular blog this year has been the time I interviewed Erin and Morag from Manfeels Park. The web comic combines quotes from actual comment threads and combines them with art from Jane Austen films, to highlight just how silly they are. Further comment threads ensue.

Mansplaining Manfeels Park
Real-world comments, in the mouths of Jane Austen characters

And that’s about it. It has been a busy first year for History Mine, and of course, we’ll be back next year. I’d like to end by giving further nods to people like Jamie (of History Behind Game of Thrones) and Kelly (of The Archaeology of Tomb Raider) for their support. Happy New Year everybody!

A Quiet Word With: Historical Cosplayer and Complete Polymath @JanineSpendlove

Janine's Wonder Woman costume

I have a new favourite person. She’s a high school history teacher turned US Marine/pilot/published author, but that’s not why I approached her. Her name is Janine Spendlove, and she designs historical versions of historical twists on iconic fictional costumes. One of the projects she has been working on is a renaissance-era Justice League of America. For reasons.

Janine's Wonder Woman costume

History Mine: How exactly did the idea for the Renaissance Justice League of America occur?

Janine Spendlove: At Dragon*Con 2009 our little group of friends all got together for our traditional Monday night dinner (since it seems we rarely get to see each other during the course of the weekend) and we were discussing all the cool steampunk groups we’d seen. We all liked the concept, but none of us were that into steampunk. My husband, Ron, had been trying to convince us to do a Justice League group for a while, but many of us were not keen on running around in skin tight outfits. So then, and I’m not sure quite how it happened, but Ron ended up jokingly saying “Instead of a steampunk JLA, we should do a Renaissance JLA.” And the idea caught fire.

By the end of the dinner we’d had a ton of people say they wanted to do the group, and claiming their characters (Ron and I immediately jumped on Superman and Wonder Woman, our favourites). By the next year many of the original people who wanted to do the group couldn’t, but over the years some people have added in, and others have left. It’s a really fluid group, and any one is welcome to join us. Honestly the only requirement is that you do a Renaissance version of a DC character costume (villains included) – we want to be as inclusive as possible with this group.

HM: How much research did you do?

JS: I knew next to nothing about historical costuming, so I consulted my friend Maggie at Costumer’s Guide, and she pointed me in the right direction. I narrowed down the era and the country I wanted to go with and then settled on a dress that was fairly historically accurate (I ended up picking an Anne Boleyn dress). From there I printed it out in black and white, and coloured it to get the looks and colours I wanted.

Since we couldn’t see Wonder Woman’s iconic boots, I thought using the overskirt to call back to them would be good, so I went with red, lined with two thick white stripes on the outer skirt. This also minimized how much blue with stars there would be on the under-skirt, since I didn’t want to look like an American Flag. I also wanted to have her bracers, so called back to them by having the sleeves lined in metallic silver.

HM: What are your favourite touches from each of the JLA outfits?

JS: This is hard because I really love all aspects of all the costumes. But I’ll name a couple things. For Superman it’s got to be the red striped poofy pants. They make me laugh, and really remind me of Supe’s ‘manties’. For both Batman and Hawkgirl it’s their lovely leather masks – so perfect! The Wonder Twins… their entire costumes crack me up! Jimmy Olsen’s sketch pad so he can draw us is brilliant. Cyclone’s simplicity and focus on her gold logo is perfect, and for my own wonder woman, my favourite part is my lasso!

HM: There isn’t much of a convention culture here in the UK, so could you tell us about it? It seems like you’re changing outfits a lot!

JS: I’m usually at conventions as a writer now, so 99% of the time when I go, it’s to work. Because of my costuming background I do end up judging a lot of costume contests. But, 5-10 years ago there were days at Dragon*Con where I’d wear five different complicated costumes in a day. I honestly don’t know where I got the energy to make all those costumes and change into them and actually get some quality time in them!

Conventions like Dragon*Con have a lot of group meet-ups and it’s a lot of fun, and I wanted to be a part of as many of them as possible. These days, if I take a costume to a con, it’s usually something to compliment my daughter’s costume, or something subtle (like Disney Bounding). I do always take a big costume to Dragon*Con. Lately it’s been my Thor costume for my Avengers group. SO MUCH FUN!

HM: You based the ‘historically accurate Snow White’ outfit on Claire Hummel‘s cartoon. What was the particular appeal of that outfit for you?

JS: I love Snow White and she’s my favourite Disney princess. I took one look at Claire Hummel’s historical version and was like “I MUST HAVE THIS DRESS, LIKE; YESTERDAY.” It was a very visceral reaction. I loved it! This dress is actually my fourth different Snow White costume, so pretty much if you make awesome Snow White fan art, I’ll probably try to find a way to make a costume of it.

 

HM: How much wardrobe space do you need?

JS: HAH! When I was at my peak (sewing a ton of costumes and wearing 15 different costumes at a con) I had an entire room dedicated to storing my costumes and their accessories (in all fairness, like a third of the costumes were my husband’s since we like to do ‘couples costumes’). Then we moved away from the countryside and our large house to a tiny apartment in the city, and had to get rid of a lot of stuff, so I culled down my costumes. So I’d say that my costumes now fill up an entire hanging closet plus four to five large bins of accessories. And I haven’t even touched shoes…

HM: Could you tell us a bit about your books?

JS: I write all kinds of fiction, military sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and more. But what I’m best known for is my fantasy trilogy; War of the Seasons. It’s about a girl named Story who falls into a world filled with trolls, dwarves, elves, dryads, and really nasty faeries that try to kill her a lot.

My favourite part about writing is the research aspect of it, because whether I’m writing fantasy or non-fiction, I’ve always got to dig into history somewhere. For example, my War of the Seasons trilogy is deeply steeped in Celtic mythology, and that was an absolute blast to research not just the mythology itself, but the time period. My next book series will be based in Norse mythology so I’ve been studying up on Vikings; absolutely thrilling!

HM: How the hell do you fit the time in?

LOL! Well, I have written a blog post about that. The big thing is I prioritize my time. For example, with both my Renn Wonder Woman and Snow White I was in the middle of working on a novel I had to finish. There are only so many hours in the day and there was just no time to do both. So in this case, since no one else could write my books, I hired a friend of mine, Jess, to sew my costumes. She had the time, needed the work, and I knew she’d do an amazing job because I’d seen her other work first hand. Win/win for both of us. There are some costumers out there who turn their nose up at people who don’t sew their own costumes. To that I say I’m very sorry for them and their snobby, cliquey attitude. Costuming should be inclusive, not exclusive.

Thanks very much to Janine for chatting with us. The first book in the War of the Seasons trilogy is available to read for free on Wattpad. You check out Janine’s costumes here and her author website is JanineSpendlove.com. She is on social media as JanineKSpendlove or JanineSpendlove.

If you enjoyed this blog then you might also like some of the other interviews I have done, such as the one I did with the ladies behind Manfeels Park, or my chat with historical Lego modeller James Pegrum.

Anne Boleyn is my spirit animal

Off with her head! - courtesy of James Pegrum

I have to give credit to Historical Honey for inspiring this blog. Until I read their blog I didn’t quite realise just how popular Anne Boleyn was (because she is completely massive online). People love her. She has fans! Once you grasp this concept, it becomes obvious. For example:

Her Wikipedia biography is over 10,000 words long. In contrast, Henry’s is only 12,000 words and he lived for at least 20 years longer, was a bloke, the King of England, and did quite a lot of crazy shit. Catherine of Aragon has 6,500, Jane Seymour gets just over 2,500, Anne of Cleves gets 6,000-odd, Catherine Howard gets barely 3,500 and Catherine Parr gets around 5,500.

Off with her head! - courtesy of James Pegrum
Off with her head! – courtesy of James Pegrum

This video has inspired me to try and figure out whether there is more going on here than meets the eye. Is Anne Boleyn more than just some broad from the past? Is she my spirit animal? Let’s have a look at the reasons why she is so damn popular.

Reason #1

She died at the peak of her popularity; like Jesus, or Princess Diana. People who die young, or just ‘before their time’ tend to get remembered better than those who live on. Their myth can be gradually sculpted, so that it forms a cohesive character, rather than the shambling, irrelevant, contradictory figure they might have become if they had lived on. Better Lennon than McCartney.

This is a great clip, but the relevant part is at about 3:13

Reason #2

Tragic and undeserved deaths are much more poignant than natural ones or, for example, death in battle. Anne had at least two miscarriages, which might have been sons, at least one of which might have been caused by the fact that Henry had put Anne B in such a compromised position.

Shit, Wikipedia thinks that she might have miscarried when she was traumatised because Henry had been in a coma for two days, or the fact that he was already fooling about with Jane Seymour. No-one should have to deal with that. Of course, had her sons lived, Henry would have had the successor that he wanted, and the situation might have had a happier resolution. But sadly, history doesn’t always take the happy route, and what-ifs and maybes don’t change unhappy facts.

Reason #3

She snagged the King of England – while he was married! As desirable titles go, this one has to be near the top of most ladies’ lists. What’s more, their relationship caused an international political crisis, which is impressive by anyone’s standards. This was kind-of like what happened to Wallis Simpson. Henry divorcing Catherine of Aragon lead to a feud with Spain and the creation of the Church of England. In order to marry Mrs Simpson, Edward VIII had to abdicate the throne. So yeah, that’s pretty damn romantic. Of course, subsequently having the same woman killed kinda ruins that a bit. Damn it all to heck, Henry!

Reason #4

You may be wondering why she’s so popular, when none of the five other wives were. I like to imagine that this is down to the law of diminishing returns. Once you’ve beheaded one queen, any further beheading or mere divorce loses its novelty value. She was the one for whom Henry told the Pope to go screw himself, and that earns you serious clout.

Anne Boleyn
Natalie Portman’s Anne Boleyn

Reason #5

She was the mother of Elizabeth I. With Elizabeth succeeding as monarch, Anne beat the five other wives to produce an heir, even if it wasn’t quite the one Henry would have liked. But there is another relevant point here. The online world is pretty heavily influenced by women. The web is way more democratic than the academic world, and so it is of little surprise that female heroes should come to the fore. We love strong women, and here we have one who is the mother of another. It’s thematic, and there’s nothing a historian loves more than a theme.

Reason #6

She was executed with a sodding sword! She’s practically Eddard Stark. It was a horrific way to go, but it was way more punk-rock than Henry, who died of obesity aged 55.

Anne B is massively popular online because she was an ambitious woman who died before her time, in tragic circumstances, but not before she managed to massively alter the course of history. As a historian in the digital age, she is my spirit animal.