Last night's television: Throne together, not thought out

JUDGE JOHN DEED BBC1; BLOOD ON OUR HANDS: THE ENGLISH CIVIL WAR C4

Critics - including myself - complain that TV history is all Nazis, Nazis, Nazis, plus the occasional excursion into Tudors. In fairness, the Stuarts don't do too badly. I can come up with three reasonably lavish attempts to do the 17th century: a series called Plague, Fire, War and Treason a year or two back, Jeremy Hardy's one-off England's Fight for Freedom back in 1999 (both of those on Channel 4) and, of course, Tristram Hunt's unintentionally hilarious Civil Wars on BBC2.

In terms of subject matter, then, last night's Blood on Our Hands was hardly breaking new ground. It didn't serve up much novelty in terms of technique, either, using the familiar method of filming dramatised reconstructions in slow-motion, heavily colourised, with lots of blurry bits. Blood on Our Hands went further than most in its willingness to throw in any visual device to add on-screen variety. The thing that really rattled me was the frequent use of black-and-white stills: there seemed to be an assumption that black-and-white photography is more authentic, because back in 1640 they wouldn't have had colour. Every TV history producer ought to be made to watch Peter Watkins's 1964 film about Culloden, which recreated the physical horror of warfare and its aftermath using approximately three men and black-and-white film. Watkins even managed to give a fairly full account of why the battle was being fought in the first place.

Considered as an example of television technique, then, Blood on Our Hands was pretty awful, and if you were looking for a beginner's account of the politics behind the Civil War, it wasn't terrifically lucid. It was even a step back: both Hunt and Simon Schama, in his A History of Britain, moved beyond an old-fashioned Roundheads vs Cavaliers account to emphasise the wider context of the Civil War, particularly the role played by Scotland. The Scots barely got a look-in here, though, oddly, the American Puritans did (fascinating to note that, only 20 years after they'd disembarked from the Mayflower, they'd developed distinctive American accents).

What the film did do well was to emphasise how traumatic the Civil War was for Britain, with a greater proportion of the population slaughtered than in the First World War. The film dwelt on the contemporary accounts of atrocities committed by both sides: massacres of surrendered soldiers, mass rapes and mutilations of women, children having their fingernails torn out. At times, it tried too hard to tell the story in modern terms (did they really have "spin doctors" in the 17th century?). Elsewhere, though, the sheer weirdness of the past was what struck you: when a Puritan mob sacked the house of the Royalist Lucas family in Colchester, they broke open the family crypt, decorated their hats with hair cut from corpses, and paraded through the streets banging together the bones.

There was a message for the present here: if you didn't understand the depth of this trauma, you'd never grasp why politics in this country has developed such a strong tradition of reform by consensus, an allergy to radical change. Another thing: Charles I was an arbitrary ruler who ignored parliament, and whose wife was constantly being attacked in the press... Does this remind you of anybody? I'm going to start stockpiling tinned food.

Meanwhile, the forces of the Establishment are moving closer towards their goal of crushing our hero in Judge John Deed, and I'm starting to lose patience with him myself: does he have to sleep with everybody involved in every case he conducts? G F Newman's drama is still a pleasure, but an ever more barking one.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
    She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

    Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

    The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
    American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

    Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

    James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
    Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

    Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

    Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution