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The Grimy, British Forest Gump: BBC’s Peaky Blinders

Chalk another one up to my brother. It’s a rare event that he’s the one to recommend a period piece to me, but when he does, I make sure to watch. I’d heard about Peaky Blinders for a while, but had just never got around to it. That changed this summer, and now that the most recent (fifth) season has aired on Netflix, what better time is there to review this riveting, historically-saturated series?... Read More
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Of Assassins and Aliens, or, The Mundane Present

History might be understood as a story of humans trying to survive, explain the world around them, and escape from the monotony of it all. From storytelling to athletics to art, we humans have been livening things up for thousands of years. Are the legions of teens tuning into their favorite YouTubers every week all that much different from the crowds filling the Athenian agora to listen to a traveling Homeric poet? Indeed, for some (including yours truly), history itself can serve as an escape, providing tales of times so much more interesting than the times one lives in. For me, this phenomenon has added a second, flipped, meaning to the old adage that “The past is like a foreign country.” Sure, they do things differently there, but I also couldn’t imagine those things happening here, either. Recently, however, I realized that this mindset forms the very foundation of one of the most popular video game series of the last two decades: Assassins’ Creed.... Read More
Borgia

No Country for Heroes: History and our Narrative Need for Protagonists

Last week, I reviewed Showtimes The Borgias  in tandem with Christopher Hibbert’s The Borgias and their Enemies. When I finished Hibbert’s work, I was struck by The Borgias’ choice to portray its titular family as the heroes of their own story. I am no Renaissance historian, but from the sources presented by Hibbert, it would seem that most contemporaries agreed that the Borgia family was a blight upon Italy, Christianity, and all humanity. Indeed, the tagline for the show is “History’s First Crime Family!” Sure, every member of the family is shown doing reprehensible things, but by virtue of the show’s narrative structure, they seem more excusable or, at least, less reprehensible than the actions of their enemies. Even the show’s numerous antagonists seemed mis-characterized; Cardinal della Rovere condemns the Borgias for corruption, yet historically, this future pope was no less corrupt, and possibly even more so! Why these character choices, some so at odds with history? As I pondered, I realized that I had already stumbled onto the answer to my questions: narrative structure and, specifically, our need for protagonists in our stories.... Read More
THE BORGIAS (Season3)

Bushels of Borgias: Christopher Hibbert’s The Borgias and their Enemies and Showtime’s The Borgias

As any history lover is wont to do, I recently combed through Netflix and added every period piece that I could find to my watch list. I decided to begin, well, at the beginning, or at least with the earliest on my new list. Thus I came to Showtime’s 2011 series The Borgias, starring Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia, the Renaissance Pope Alexander VI and patriarch of a famously corrupt Spanish noble family. The show itself was highly entertaining, full of intrigue, backbiting, and monologues that have become the hallmarks of prestige television. As always, Jeremy Irons is magnetic, and even though the Renaissance has never been my specialty, his performance sustained me through events that otherwise might not have kept my interest. As I prepared to review The Borgias, however, I realized that I lacked any foundation for such an historical review. I thus dutifully hunted down a history of the family, and so we come to this tandem review.... Read More
STAR WARS: EPISODE VII - THE FORCE AWAKENS, 2015. ©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Lucasfilm

An Empire Revised: Star Wars, Fascism, & History

One does not need to look very far for homages to history within George Lucas’s Star Wars franchise. A noble Republic transforms into a corrupt Empire in a reflection of ancient Rome, and, of course, that Empire employs stormtroopers and commits genocide in a dark mirror of Nazi Germany. This last comparison has been clear from the moment Star Wars premiered in 1977, and has served the franchise well in these intervening forty years. Indeed, when asked to tease the origins of the First Order, villains of the Disney sequel trilogy, Lucasfilm representatives likened them to Nazis who escaped to Argentina; this time, however, those escaped fascists regroup and strike back. It is precisely this appearance of the First Order, however, that has begun eroding Star Wars’ original fascist allegory for me, for as the First Order ascends in villainy, Star Wars seems intent on mitigating the evil of the original Empire.... Read More
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American Horror Story: AMC’s The Terror: Infamy

Last spring, Heather and I enjoyed AMC’s somewhat nontraditional historical horror/thriller The Terror (reviewed here on Concerning History). Its story of a British expedition trapped north of the Arctic Circle, struggling to survive the elements even while stalked by a malevolent spirit, was gripping and, well, weird. We were excited to hear that it had been renewed for a second season, though of course this new batch of episodes would need to cover a different story. On board for an anthology series of different period piece horror stories, Heather and I eagerly tuned in.... Read More
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Lost in Translation: The Impossible Task of Complete Historical Accuracy

Spring 2019 saw yet another HBO phenomenon in the form of the docudrama miniseries Chernobyl (and you can look for a review coming next year to Concerning History). The recent Emmys briefly brought Chernobyl back into the spotlight, and I heard again a complain I’d first encountered back when the show originally aired: there were no accents or, rather, there were the wrong accents. No character in the show speaks with a Russian or Ukrainian accent, and indeed most of the actors stick to their native British cadence. This sorely bothered some people, to the point of even not being able to finish the show. Heather and I, however, were not bothered by it in the slightest. It’s a rare moment when internet podcasters are on the side of historical accuracy and I am not, so why this seemingly uncharacteristic shift in perspective?... Read More
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Anatomy of Battle: The Siege of Minas Tirith

Hobbit Day has come again, and with it, Bryan and Francis’ now-traditional post discussing some element of intersection between history and that beloved fantasy realm of Middle Earth. This week, in what may become a long-running series here at Concerning History, Bryan and Francis dissect the climactic siege of Minas Tirith and Battle of the Pelennor Fields from The Return of the King, showcasing multiple elements of historical inspiration, or at least historical echoes, for the biggest battle described in detail Tolkien’s legendarium. Please forgive the longer-than-usual post; they’re both incurable nerds...... Read More
Sucker

Scholar of Many Worlds, Part II: Who’s Afraid of Spoilers?

I have a spoiler problem. Let me clarify. No, I don’t lose my temper when finding out the ending to a decades-old movie I’ve never seen, nor do I purposefully avoid all trailers for an anticipated movie so that I can see it fresh the first time; quite the opposite. I became infamous among our friends at Gettysburg for blithely spoiling all manner of stories as I excitedly shared my own knowledge and passions with others.... Read More