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Thirsty Women: Sophia Coppola’s The Beguiled

About a year ago, we watched, intrigued, as a new trailer for a romantic drama unfolded before us. An independent film with a star-studded cast, it promised suspense, betrayal, and revenge in a tale of stilted lovers and, even better, it was set in during the American Civil War! That film was Sophia Coppola’s The Beguiled, and we couldn’t wait to check it out and bask in the melodrama, for good or for laughably bad. We were finally able to get our hands on it recently, and it while it certainly wasn’t the most enriching film in terms of history, it’s story certainly didn’t disappoint.... Read More
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Mixed Signals: Netflix’s Roman Empire: Reign of Blood

The cause of Rome’s fall has been debated almost since the event itself, and with it has come an eternal debate over when that mighty empire first started its irreversible decline. This spring, a new documentary series from Netflix threw its hat into the ring, chronicling the (mis)reign of the Emperor Commodus and Rome’s subsequent slow crumbling. Always a fan of Rome, I gave it a go.... Read More
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Two Island Narratives, Part II: Sapelo

As a part of a troupe of teachers studying Reconstruction, perhaps the most misremembered time in America’s past, I headed to Sapelo Island off the Georgia coast. There a secluded community still lives today, descendants of the former enslaved peoples of the lowcountry south where sea-island cotton was grown for export to textile mills in places like New York, Manchester, and Liverpool. Our group had the chance to get to know the place ourselves. We enjoyed eating the Low Country Boil, a meal consisting of shrimp, potatoes, sausage, and corn in a broth, which locals had enjoyed for centuries. We swam in the warm waters and looked up at the starry night sky while thunder rolled in the distance. I quickly appreciated the natural beauty of the place, and why those who had toiled and bled in the fields would want their children and their children’s children to construct a new life there. Like the “mixed race people” of Malaga in the north, the Gullah-Geechee culture that lives on Sapelo today were likely maligned over the past century and a half as somehow inferior, incapable of caring for the land properly.... Read More
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A Furry Whirlwind: Netflix’s Frontier

Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century trade on the American frontier has seen a slight increase in its media depictions in recent years, and I couldn’t be happier. With such offerings as The Revenant and Taboo, the brutal misery and cutthroat business of imperial exploitation in the (by then not-so) New World have been brought compellingly to life. I was excited to learn of another addition to this genre with Netflix’s Frontier. Focusing on the struggle for dominance in the fur trade around Hudson’s Bay in the late eighteenth century, Frontier offered an intriguing possibility for exploring the changing face of empire in America after the cataclysmic shifts of the Seven Years War and American Revolution.... Read More
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Inexorable Fate: Bernard Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom Series

Television is never short on stories set in the Middle Ages, and medieval Britain especially sees more than its fair share of adaptations. It is rare, however, to have two shows running concurrently that cover the same time period. Such is now the case with History Channel’s Vikings and BBC/Netflix's The Last Kingdom. We will certainly review the former on some future date, but as the second season of the latter aired on Netflix this spring, and I have recently caught up with book series on which it’s based, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to review one of my recent favorites.... Read More
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Dueling Perspectives: John Keay and J.A.G. Roberts’s Histories of China

Some months ago, as Francis and I were discussing a potential piece for the blog, I realized I needed to brush up on my grasp of Chinese history. Perusing the shelves of my local library, I happened upon two promising volumes. The first, China: A History, was penned by esteemed journalist John Keay, while the second, A Concise History of China, was written by English academic J.A.G. Roberts. Faced with a more public, accessible volume on the one hand and an academic’s historical survey on the other, I decided to read them both and then compare them in a rare tandem review.... Read More
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More Myths than Greek Myths: Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman (2017)

I recently had the opportunity (as many of you may have had) to see Wonder Woman in theaters. There has been much hype about this movie. Not only is it the first post-MCU superhero movie to star a heroine as the focal figure—that is Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman—but it was also directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins. The movie is quite entertaining, with all the elements that make superhero movies enjoyable: jam-packed action sequences, witty dialogue, tension and passion in the romance between the heroine and her love interest/partner, a despicable villain and his henchmen, a hidden enemy, the heroine’s moral crisis at seeing her worldview shattered in the face of reality, self-sacrificing courage, and a colorful cast of supporting heroes. You name it, and Wonder Woman has it.... Read More
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War on all the World: Starz’s Black Sails

The end of March brought with it the finale of the Starz series Black Sails. I’m a sucker for anything involving wooden ships and broadsides, so it was natural that I would eventually try the show out. As I began watching, all I knew was that it was a gritty pirate drama in the style of so many recent offerings from similar premium services. Imagine my delight when I discovered not a pulpy sensationalist naval warfare fix but a masterfully crafted historical drama.... Read More