Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Excuses, excuses...

Before getting into the subject of this rant, here's a warning about what triggered it:

Yes, I've been watching The Tudors

From what I've been told by people who research various aspects of medieval life (clothing, painting, religion, history, etc.) this program is filled with all sorts of wild inaccuracies, so why should cooking and food be treated any differently?

Surprisingly, for a television series that is so lavish with costumes and settings, food is almost ignored (well, maybe that's not too surprising - very few shows or films deal much with food, probably because it's a very hard thing to film well). Where the show does touch on the topic, they seem to invariably go way wrong.

At the end of the second season, King Henry is presented with a swan pie. Awesome! The thing is the right shape, and they even decorated it with the head and wings of the swan. Then Henry breaks the top crust and starts eating the contents with his fingers. This is a minor quibble, I know, but he would have used a spoon. They had spoons in medieval times. They even have spoons at Medieval Times ("Would you like a refill on that Pepsi?").

Then there are the grapes. In almost every scene depicting a dinner or banquet there are grapes on the table - even in the scenes set in winter. Somehow they've got grapes ready for harvest year round in England. That, or they've managed to work out overnight transport from the southern hemisphere.

What really set my teeth on edge though was something in the episode I watched last night. Henry holds up a piece of fruit and tells Suffolk that it comes from the New World. That would have been Ok, but it was a starfruit, which aren't native to anywhere in the New World but instead come from Indonesia.

[Aside: I suppose they could have used a pawpaw, but given their short shelf life that wouldn't have been much better (maybe they were brought over on the same express flight as the grapes). Tomato? No, they were known but considered poisonous. A potato then, or maybe a peanut. Heck, how about tobacco?]

Now some might say that this kind of criticism is misplaced. The show's creator, Michael Hirst, dismissed complaints of inaccuracy by stating "Showtime commissioned me to write an entertainment, a soap opera, and not history ... And we wanted people to watch it."

That's just bunk.

Hirst is spinning his departures from reality as being artistic deviation, changes to make the story more interesting. I'll buy that for the bit with Henry eating the swan pie, but for the other errors it's just an excuse for laziness. Hirst simply doesn't care enough to expend the minuscule amount of effort to even get vaguely close to right (like on the same continent).

In the meanwhile, I keep watching. It is entertaining, after all, and it helps me to keep up with the nonsense that people learn from Hollywood about medieval Europe.

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