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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "History isn't necessarily what happened", 31 Jan 2010
Nicholas Casley (Plymouth, Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Terry Jones: Medieval Lives [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
At the time of writing, it is quite bizarre that this BBC series is only available to British purchasers by buying the BBC America edition!

Eight half-hour episodes sees Terry pulling part received notions of what life was like for the peasant, the monk, the damsel, the minstrel, the knight, the philosopher, the outlaw, and the king in medieval England. Actually, he also ventures regularly across the border to his native Wales, down to the sunshine of Tuscan Italy and Provencal Avignon, to French Poitiers and Normandy, and a couple of times to Scotland. The series comes with effective use of animation techniques involving extracts from genuine medieval manuscripts such as the Luttrell Psalter and the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. In addition, this set comes with an extra, a fifty-minute film called `Gladiators - the Brutal Truth' from 1999.

As in his series on `The Barbarians', where Jones argued that it was the Romans who were more barbaric than the tribes who defeated them, in this series of medieval lives he takes the clichéd stereotypes of medieval life and often turns things on their heads. For example, he argues that peasants actually had a lot of control over their lives. Indeed, one could argue that Jones has a leftwing political agenda, being pro-peasant and pro-philosopher, but anti-monk and anti-knight. If so, then I am not complaining, although his series is devoid of feminism: there are no women peasants featured, no nuns. The only episode to concentrate on women is the damsel in distress, although Jones points out that that concept was created by Victorian men

Much of what Jones has to say is a little simplified in its detail, of course, but it is said with his usual gusto and good humour. For example, "Your average lord could make more money out of sheep than he could out of peasants. For a start, there's a lot more wool on a shape, and you can eat them, which is possible with peasant but socially tricky." He compares the Cistercians to MacMonasticism ("Once prayer acquired a monetary value, the game was up"), and notes that "The chivalric laws of war had absolutely nothing to do with the Geneva Convention." Sir John Hawkwood was a tanner's son from Essex, but his escapades in Italy meant "mercenary and knight had become one and the same."

In the final episode, Jones concentrates on the three kings of England named Richard, who he compares to the good, the bad, and the ugly in the modern English mind. But Jones is not having that; he rightly plays topsy and inverts their reputations: Richard I "was king of England, but he was scarcely an English king"; Richard II was, if anything, "too soft on his enemies"; and as for Richard III, Jones puts up a good case for the supposed murderer of the `Princes in the Tower'.

Terry Jones's conclusion is that "History isn't necessarily what happened; it's very often what somebody wants us to think happened."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Rescuing the Middle Ages from well worn cliches and platitudes", 25 July 2010
Julie Cutler - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Terry Jones: Medieval Lives [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
I despaired of this ever coming out in Region 2, despite being produced by 2entertain for the BBC. Yes it is a genuine Region 1 (not region free), but at least it upscales well to a medium sized LCD and displays in 16:9.

Terry dips us into aspects of social Mediaeval history, challenging the perceived mainstream notions, which were cobbled together by Victorian writers- we have damsels kidnapping future husbands, monks avoiding the restrictions of their orders (I never knew that Cistercians specifically wore no knickers!). He is careful to outline changes in social positions over the centuries and packs this into eight half hour episodes- quite a feat. We have excerpts from documents of the lives of real people (the Pastons feature of course), not just the tedious "royals", and backed with Gilliam like animated Medieval manuscript illustrations we are presented with a quirky, and memorable reworking of history.

There's also a 50 minute documentary of "Gladiators: the Brutal Truth" which graphically portrays the Roman death industry where crowds watched the destruction of slaves, criminals and exotic beasts for entertainment (in contrast modern bullfighting is rather a wimpy affair, meaning no disrespect to the poor bulls).

All in all a brief examination but very entertaining.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I learned about fleabane, 8 Mar 2014
bernie "xyzzy" (Arlington, Texas) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Terry Jones: Medieval Lives [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
Peasant's revolt 1381 is also called Wat Tyler's Rebellion turns out to be more complex than first thought. An excellent view of medieval lives presented by Terry Jones is not a bunch of sound bites and redundant information from obscure experts. They get right down to the bone. The 1349 Black Death plague is also spotted.

Then there is the monk. We learn the truth about monkhood. Most of the monks look like Terry Jones. We see that prayers became a commodity. We learn about bare bottom piety. There is a competition to have the best relics. There was the 1327 rebellion against a monastery; it was a preliminary to 1381.

Now consider the Damsel. Also looks like Terry Jones. The archetype of the passive female. Nicola de la Haye pushing 70; she was aided by William Marshal. We get the real story with the use of puppets to keep this PG13. We have stories of women abducting men. We follow women's fashion. 1429 Joan of Arc story is told; her real crime was that she wore men's clothing.

Would you believe the Minstrel? In 1066 At the Battle of Hastings, Taillefer recited the Chanson de Roland to the Norman troops while juggling with his sword. They tell of troubadours that tell stories in the vernacular. He mentions Geoffrey Chaucer who mysteriously disappears; dispatching is suspected.

A knight to remember. William Marshal returns as the subject in an interesting story of his life and how he became a knight. We see them train horses to kick shields. We learn about the order of the garter founded in 1348.

Shall we consider the philosopher? A medieval scientist and possibly doctor. We get a look at a field where they grew all the herbs needed for medicine. We get pictures of experiments with newer medicines. We even found anesthetics. We find Washington Irving is responsible for making us think that they thought the world is flat. Nobody never thought the world is flat. We also get to see an astronomical clock. All to display our ignorance of our own past.

Stand and deliver. Not midwives but the outlaw. Terry asks "Did outlaws never where trousers?" We learn about "The Folvilles" (John De Folville 1312 - 1363 and his sons.) Among other gangs. 1150 trial by jury, but not as we know it. We get to see unique ways of execution and/or mutilation. We learn that outlaws are part of the heart of what makes England.

Midlevel kings divided into the good, the bad, and the ugly. We cover three Richards. We get a spot of Richard the third form Shakespeare. He tells of the King of England that on one has ever heard of.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Knowing More of English History, 8 Aug 2013
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This review is from: Terry Jones: Medieval Lives [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
Despite only being available from the U.S.A. this is definitely a British history lesson. Terry Jones endeavours to remove some of the more mythic aspects of our history, but at the same time gives more insight. If you are already familiar with most of what happened in Medieval history, e.g. did Robin Hood exist or, the twisting of truths about various kings, then there may not be a lot more to learn. If, however, for example your knowledge of Richard III is from Shakespeare's portrayal then you will get to hear a different story. I shared this with an ex-pat Brit and he felt he learned a lot. His view was he wished this had been available when learning history at school.

The graphics are a bit odd, interspersed with TJ in various guises, but it works fairly well. . It's not a heavy history lesson, but more adult in approach than Horrible Histories.- which is slightly more flippantly funny as it is presumably made for young people (although enjoyed by many adults as well).
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5.0 out of 5 stars Jones at his Mediaeval Monty Pthyon best, 8 Nov 2010
This review is from: Terry Jones: Medieval Lives [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
Mediaveal lives is a superb series which follows a number of key Mediaeval stereotypes - knights, peasants and explodes the traditional steotypes we have of them which of course is a largey a vicrotian construct. Jones who is a qualified Mediavailst (historian) uses humour and monty pthyon (Terry Gilliam) "style" cartoons to priovide a hugely entertainng insight into the colourful if harsh lives of our mediaeval ancestors.

This is historical story telling at its best - Jones' really make history come alive and for all Python fans - this is iun the tradition of the atmospheric Mediaeval scenes from films like Holy Grail and Michael Palin's Jabberwocky

This was a hugely successful BBC TV series
which begs the question why have the over paid fat cats at the BeeB decided in their infinite wisdom NOT to release this on DVD - this DVD is only available on US import (to tap into the huge N American Monty Python market)

To watch this you have to have a DVD player that can take region 1 (most in UK are Europe are Region 2) or you need a DVD player that will take any DVD

if you have either of these then buy this it will not dissappoint - the rest of us will have to continue waiting in vain in the feint hope that the BBC will come to their senses and release this in the UK and be constent with the book or grainy VHS

any news as to whether this will ever come out on UK compatable DVD is very welcome
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