Henry VIII: Patron or Plunderer?; An African Journey with Jonathan Dimbleby
New programmes all round last night - we'd finished both series we'd been watching so time for new things. First up was the first part of Henry VIII: Patron or Plunderer? which is a two part thing we've had recorded for months but not got round to watching. It's presented by Jonathan Foyle, who we'd seen as a guest talking head on a Time Team special about Henry VIII's palaces a while ago (probably around the same time we'd recorded this, actually). The central premise of this is to look at whether the net effect of Henry's reign on the arts was positive or negative. Did the many works he commissioned, the many palaces and buildings he had built, his interest & promotion of music, did all this outweigh the destruction caused by the break from Rome? Foyle is answering this question by presenting a biography of Henry (paying attention primarily to the arts, although not soley concentrating on them), and presumably at the end of the second half will give his assessment of the answer. This first programme covers the life of Henry up to his marriage to Anne Boleyn - so the golden boy years, when Henry was young, handsome, pious and every inch the chivalric hero as well as the Renaissance prince. During this time the balance is definitely on the side of patron - right from the start of his reign where he finishes King's College Chapel (begun by Henry VI with the intention of it being a simple place of worship, and continued by Henry VII as a monument of Tudor propaganda - finished by Henry VIII in this vein). There are also many palaces (including the spectacular temporary one at the Field of Cloth of Gold), tapestries, paintings (Holbein was attached to the English court at this time, producing some of the finest portraits of the time), and even music. Although with the music it was pointed out that Henry VIII probably wasn't that great a composer - his name may be attached to several pieces but these are often reworkings of already existent songs, and not necessarily that good either. The programme also covered some of the religious and political concerns of this part of Henry's reign - Foyle read out some of Henry VIII's defence of the Catholic faith, which earnt him the title Defender of the Faith from the Pope (still in use by monarchs of England to this day). And we were shown a lot of the documentation for Henry's Great Matter - the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. This was mostly the official documentation but also included a book that Henry & Anne had used to pass notes to each other whilst in church!
Obviously I was going to enjoy this programme - it hits squarely in the centre of the period of English history that I find most interesting. But even accounting for that bias I thought it was well done, lots of information & little padding (even if we'd seen some things before in other programmes they were covered differently in this one). Looking forward to watching the second half next week :)
After a break for pudding (which I abandoned actually, the Co-op chocolate puddings aren't very nice :( ) we watched the first part of An African Journey with Jonathan Dimbleby. I'd been kinda wary about this, coz it could quite easily tip over into cringe-making stuff or look-at-the-funny-people. But as it turned out, it was a good & interesting programme :) The premise here is that Dimbleby has been reporting from places in Africa for decades but always about disasters and wars and bad things. So this is a three part series looking at some of the good things going on across the continent. And showing how it's both part of an ancient world with traditions reaching back in time, but also a part of the modern world. This first episode was in three different countries in West Africa - first Mali, then Ghana & finally Nigeria. Throughout all three countries he showed a pretty diverse range of events, people & places - for instance in Mali he attended a wedding (at which he had to dance - that was the closest to cringe-making that it got), then spent some time with a couple of guys who worked dredging sand up from the river to be made into concrete (one guy would dive (without equipment) the 20ft to the river bottom to fill the bucket, the other guy hauled it up), and then in Djenne saw how the traditional mud houses are still made (and got to help a bit). As another example of the contrasts he was drawing out - in Ghana he met the King of the Ashanti (who used to work for Brent Council on programmes for disadvantaged black youths and now he rules the biggest tribe in Ghana with a justice system etc that runs in parallel to that of the state). And as a counterpoint we saw a little bit of the set up of Ghana's big reality television series - which is all about football, with the prize being training with one of England's Premier League clubs. The Nigeria segment included both the richest man in Africa (whose primary business is cement manufacturing) and rappers in Lagos.