For those in the UK, tonight's episode of "Perfect Storms" is based on the Battle of Teutoburg Forest. It is on the channel Yesterday at 2100. You can see my thoughts on filming here and blurb about the show here.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have been plugging the show. I was involved with the filming - a splendid week in Germany - and it is a subject that I am passionate about.
But I really do recommend the show.
It is a truism, sadly not often acknowledged, that much television on classical subjects is tired and lazy. Aside from occasional spots of light, like Mary Beard or Michael Scott, it tends to revert to the familiar stomping grounds of Julius Caesar, Cleopatra and Alexander the Great. The filming too is often prosaic: the trope of three legionaries marching through a puddle has become so common as to engender a drinking game, the action is cut every 10 seconds in an attempt to keep your attention, and the language is often B-movie trailer. ("In a land without freedom, in a time before hope").
Commissioning editors have also largely forgotten that there is a difference between accessibility and dumbing down. Television is entertainment (to be fair something classicists, for their part often forget), but that does not mean that the audience is made up of simpletons with ADHD. I recall a dreadful doc on Channel 4 several years ago about Helen of Troy. The parts that weren't forgettable décolletage were simply banal. An obvious point had been forgotten that if you are going to make a film about Helen of Troy, the people who are going to stay in and watch it have at least some idea of who she is.
Another - far too - regular sinner is the documentary with the Daily Mail-style question in the title ("Did the Celts in Scotland wear kilts?"). The answer is always "No - stop wasting my time".
But Perfect Storms manages to do something different. It is almost old-fashined in that the viewer comes away knowing more than he/she did at the beginning. The story is told in an engaging way, CGI is worn lightly and the interviewees all have something to say. Hopefully viewers will want to find out more afterwards.
But what really lifts the show is that when thinking about Roman policy in Germany and imperial strategical imperatives, it is easy to forget that ancient battles involve real people. The past is seen, in a well-worn phrase, as another country. The interview with Capt Alexander Mackenzie in this show will change that. It certainly did for me! I hope you enjoy it.