Armada: 12 Days To Save England, BBC2 - TV review: Reconstruction belongs in classroom documentaries

Confused retelling of 1588 attack nearly prompted a jump overboard

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There is no debate: historic reconstruction belongs in the classroom documentaries about the peasants’ revolt and the like, not on primetime Sunday night TV. Presenter Dan Snow rescued Armada: 12 Days to Save England, just about, but the confused combination of dramatic reconstruction, CGI and Snow swanning around on his yacht, nearly had me jumping overboard.

This was a retelling of the Spanish Armada’s attack on England over two weeks in 1588. This first episode dealt with catalysts behind King Philip II of Spain ordering the invasion – Catholic Philip’s fear of Protestantism, Francis Drake’s raid on the Spanish coast for gold and Elizabeth I’s rejection of his hand in marriage some 30 years earlier – and the men leading the two navies.

With a fleet of engaging historians in his arsenal and the benefit of new material (letters between the Spanish commanders explaining the key military decisions), Snow should have delivered a winner. Instead, we got prolific, not-very-convincing reconstructions. Why did the Spanish fleet speak in English with Mexican accents? How did they know what Elizabeth I said to her pet monkey while holed up in Richmond waiting for the attack? And what the hell did Snow’s yacht add to proceedings?

I found it much easier to engage with the two historians playing giant battleships, and the authors debating Elizabeth’s feelings for Felipe than the screen versions.

I’d watch Armada, the drama series,  and Armada, the history documentary, but  the two together made me just a wee bit seasick.