Like many schoolchildren, I learned the ‘rhyme’ meant to help us remember the six wives of Henry VIII: “Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived”. But it wasn’t until I watched the Showtime series “The Tudors” starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers that I realized the value of actual, human faces to create in my own mind a memorable historical context.
Sure, the show may play a little fast and loose with some events in the timeline, but it also makes these stiff textbook figures real people, with desires and faults all their own. There’s a huge difference in reading Anne Boleyn’s final speech or that the executioner was sympathetic to her, and in seeing his eyes and hearing the quiver in her voice.
Though my experience with The Tudors was not the first time I’ve experienced this fleshing-out of history (notably, the portrayal of the onset of the plague in Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver (Baroque Cycle) affected me similarly, as did the depiction of the rise and fall of Oliver Cromwell in The Devil’s Whore), it was the first time I was inspired to help others see it, too.
So for Christmas last year, I gave my husband Jey a coupon as a gift: “This coupon entitles the bearer to a year-long journey of exploration and education.” (Yes, we’re big dorks who are inclined to give this type of gift.) I included with it a very rough timeline of British history beginning with pre-civilization, and films set in each period.
We’ve spent the past several months intermittently clarifying the dates on the timeline and filling in the blanks with appropriate films and television shows, where possible. There are several periods of history which are notably bereft of film-related content, and several which are so flush that it’s really difficult to narrow down which we’ll actually watch.
Thanks for joining us on our journey!