Majesty and Mortar: Britain's Great Palaces, TV review: Dan Cruickshank scores again with an engrossing alternative to the World Cup
The problem with the World Cup – besides Fifa, the impact on the Brazilian economy, and England's quadrennial pants-downing – is that its domination of the TV schedules is so absolute that there's sometimes not a tremendous amount else for your common-or-garden TV hack to mull over. Even the Radio Times – whose daily picks denote a rigorous thumbing through the schedules worthy of a bloke in the pub with a creased copy of TV Quick and a pink highlighter – selected a 9am repeat of Frasier as one of its Wednesday highlights. Admittedly it's a great episode, the one where Frasier thinks he has a stalker – but it doesn't bode well for a classic night's viewing. Not when Honduras vs Switzerland is on elsewhere.
Thanks goodness, then, for Dan Cruickshank. Whereas Honduran jugador Carlo Costly is the one attracting the big, big ratings on BBC1, Cruickshank, the Roy Race of architectural history, is providing the factual rabonas in Majesty and Mortar: Britain's Great Palaces over on BBC4. Which, presuming they got on the first flight out of Belo Horizonte, England's players will have got home in time to watch.
Now, if only there were some way to connect the hubris and vanity of Charles I and his unyielding belief in his own godly, unchallenged, deserved genius and success and English football... I'll leave that to Hugh McIlvanney, but in the mean time, Cruickshank learned me some mid-millennial art history.
After last week's opening episode of this wildly interesting series, Cruickshank alighted at the end of the Tudor period with Elizabeth I's death and the beginning of the reign of James I and then his son Charles I.
As Cruickshank entered Inigo Jones's Banqueting House – built for James – on Whitehall, he was awed. This was, he purred, a "revolution in stone". And, as it rose over London, its people marvelled at a structure "alien in design, towering above the older brick and timber structures as if from another world". Jones's classicism was a giant piece of stone public relations, expressing, Cruickshank reckoned, "the unity, the harmony, the authority of the monarchy." Now, they say hindsight is 20/20, but you can guess where this kind of divine hubris might lead.
So when James carked it in 1625 and his son Charles took over, he employed his pal Rubens to paint a triptych of images on the ceiling of Banqueting House depicting James I as a wondrous godly figure, just like himself. And no meddling Parliament was going to get in his way when it came to going further and building a giant new Whitehall Palace. Alas...
Cruikshank's description of Charles having his head lumped off was brilliant. Standing on the spot where it happened, he told the tale with the malice of a man spooking his grandkids with a particularly gory ghost story. We even got a macabre chopping effect when we got to the, er, crunch.
As you'd hope, Cruickshank's monologue was stuffed with things you (well, I, at least) didn't know: Hampton Court is actually a cut'n'shunt of a Tudor building and a Stewart one (obvious, really); Christopher Wren proposed a grid system for London after the Great Fire but it was overtaken by the city's rapid rebuilding in its old topography; and William III had a giant bed at Hampton Court he didn't even sleep in.
Cruickshank is the best of hosts for this kind of thing. His expertise, combined with a gift for delivering historical tittle-tattle, makes him a whisperingly ebullient tour guide. And he doesn't even bite people. Tune in next week.
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 2 Ed Miliband less influential than One Direction's Louis Tomlinson by official Doncaster power list
- 3 Japanese island overrun with cats after population explodes
- 4 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 5 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
Kurt Cobain's life and death: Montage of Heck film uses unseen footage to tell Nirvana frontman's story
Game of Thrones season 5 spoilers: What we can expect according to George RR Martin's books
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Drugs Live: Twitter responds to Jon Snow and Jennie Bond smoking cannabis
Jimmy McGovern's new TV series 'Banished': Why Australia's past has such resonance today
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'