BBC defends taking liberties with the life of Charles II death

In one of the most powerful scenes of historical reconstruction to be shown on the BBC, an axe falls on the neck of Charles I as he kneels before his executioner in Whitehall.

But viewers of the four-part BBC blockbuster starting this Sunday may be surprised to see the king's son, who was later to become Charles II, standing close by at the 1649 regicide and splattered in his father's blood.

In reality, at the time of the execution, the teenage prince was in exile in France, where he had been living with his mother, Queen Henrietta Maria, for more than three years. The current edition of the Radio Times criticises the scene as "pure fiction".

The apparent inaccuracy in Sunday's showpiece BBC1 drama on the life of Charles II, starring Rufus Sewell, Diana Rigg and Rupert Graves, is expected to reignite the controversy over history being rewritten in an attempt to provide more gripping television.

Adrian Hodges, the programme's writer, admitted in an interview in the new edition of Radio Times that he had taken "short cuts".

He said: "Although I have used historical background as carefully as I can, I am not claiming this is exactly how things were. In reinventing a period of history there are certain short cuts that have to be taken, characters lost or changed, chronology adapted." Mr Hodges suggested it was "more important to be convincing than authentic".

He said: "I'm sure a 17th- century Londoner wouldn't recognise 90 per cent of what we're showing, but I think a 21st-century TV audience will believe and get involved in it."

Kate Harwood, the producer of the programme, Charles II - The Power and The Passion, said the opening execution scene was a "dream sequence" and was intended to show the helplessness of the teenager in doing anything to prevent his father's death.

She said: "You know the things in dreams when you are trying to act but you can't. He's there, but he can't do anything.

"Drama does simplify things. But I don't think that necessarily robs it of essential truth, which is after all more important than fact listing."

Ms Harwood said the production had included scenes that probably did not take place, such as a meeting between General George Monck, one of Cromwell's commanders, and the Duke of Buckingham, a close friend of Charles, before the Restoration. The programme also "plays with the rumour" that Charles II secretly married the mother of the Duke of Monmouth, though the king always denied it.

The television historian Michael Wood joined the accuracy debate with a scathing attack on the writer Andrew Davies, who recently dramatised the life of Queen Boudica for ITV. Mr Wood said Boudica was "off-the-wall period hokum" and that "the absurdity of script and direction only made bad history".

He said: "The first few minutes said it all. Long-haired ancient Britons roaring like England football fans, knocking back beer, muddy faces daubed in woad, loose sexual morals ... you know the sort of thing. Not the remotest inkling of what an Iron Age society might really have been like."

The historian acknowledged that Mr Davies had done a "terrific job" in his televised version of Pride and Prejudice. "Davies is a great dramatiser, but let loose in a much more distant historical period, without the safe mooring of a great text he was, at times, all at sea."

HOW TV TWISTED THE TRUTH

CAMBRIDGE SPIES

Broadcast: BBC2, May 2003

Four-parter about Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Kim Philby.

Criticism: Employs scenes that never happened, such as the spies starting a strike at university and defending a Jewish student.

SHIPMAN

Broadcast: ITV, July 2002

Two hours about the murder of Winifred Mellor by serial killer Dr Harold Shipman.

Criticism: Mrs Mellor's family branded it inaccurate and misleading over its portrayal of her daughters. Granada admitted some inaccuracies.

BLOODY SUNDAY

Broadcast: Channel Four, January 2002

Written by Jimmy "Cracker" McGovern and set in Derry in 1972, when the British army opened fire on a demonstration.

Criticism: McGovern was accused of bias and writing "fantasy".

BOUDICA

Broadcast: ITV, September 2003

Blood-and-mud series on the Queen of the Iceni and her battles against the Romans, starring ER's Alex Kingston.

Criticism: TV historian Michael Wood condemned it as "hokum", without "the remotest inkling of what an Iron Age society might have been like".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Urgent Requirement - Central Manchester

£20000 - £23000 per annum + 20 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Marketi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Guru Careers: Social Media Executive / SEO Executive

£20 - 25K + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Social Media...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions