on 6 March 2011
"The Normans" is a truly excellent starting point. For the layperson, who probably only recognises the date and William's name, it's a chance to be introduced to the full story and some of the factors that affected events and motivations that drove the leading players. For me, it provided a loose overview of the background involved, explaining why the Normans were distinct from the rest of France, and it refreshed my memory of the events of the Norman conquest.
The visuals are shot just right. Bartlett presents key scenes to us, and stands present at the key locations and surviving artefacts, placing such items and locations in context today, but at the same time we are equally treated to languorously lingering close ups of the artefacts, sweeping shots of the buildings, and a few abstract shots of extras in period clothing but thankfully no low budget third rate acting. Bartlett is an excellent choice of presenter. He clearly knows what he's talking about, and can add interesting detail to proceedings whilst at the same time engaging the viewer. I found the supporting music cast just right; the tone of it suited the subject matter, and furthermore it did not overwhelm the dialogue - there are increasing complaints of programmes whose music drowns out the dialogue of the presenter or otherwise overwhelms and spoils certain elements of the programme. The programme was both informative and entertaining, and the one addition I would have liked to have seen would have been a genealogical graphic explaining Rollo's connection to William the Conqueror.
Some history documentaries have a tendency to feel slow, dry, or drag in places even though they are informative. This series does not, and engages throughout. It should also be commended for presenting a new side to the Normans that has not often been in the public consciousness - the fact that the Normans also had an effect on states and cultures outside of England, even dramatically so across Europe.
on 2 September 2010
This is an absolutely first class series which I greatly enjoyed and recommend unreservedly. One thing it could have made clearer while speaking of the supposedly 'mixed' racial origins of the English population however, is that the Normans, Saxons, Jutes and Danes were all closely related Germanic tribes, who were all originally from the same region of Scandinavia/Northern Germany. The only significant differences between them were actually linguistic/cultural not racial; IE:- Saxon 'fashion' encouraged long hair and moustouches, the Normans had a type of 'skinhead' crop, while the Vikings wore their hair braided. An excellent DVD which illustrates these close genetic ties is:- Face of Britain [DVD] which is centred around a landmark reseach project carried out by Oxford University geneticist Sir Walter Bodmer. He and his team have created the most detailed DNA map of Britain ever, and show us, I quote:- "exactly who our ancestors were, where they came from and what they looked like.". This highly informative 155min 3 part series is the perfect companion to The Normans and I unconditionally recommend both as highly informative educational entertainment.
The Normans [DVD]
Face of Britain [DVD]
This excellent series is not just a history of the Norman conquest of England; it's scope is much wider. It is presented by Professor Robert Bartlett.
Each one-hour episode of the three-part series can be split into two distinct halves. Episode one, MEN FROM THE NORTH, shows how a band of Viking pirates became a major political force in its first half; whilst the second focuses on the conquest of England up to and including the Battle of Hastings. (I would have preferred the former to have occupied a while episode, since it is so vital as to what followed later.) The second hour, CONQUEST, whilst beginning with the death of William, actually addresses the resulting conquest of England in the first half - a conquest of culture as much as by force - and the differing later conquests of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland in the second. NORMANS OF THE SOUTH is the title of the third episode, where Bartlett explores their legacy in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The first half looks at southern Italy and Sicily; the second at the First Crusade.
Bartlett has a neat turn of phrase. For example: "They came, they saw, they conquered. Then they married the locals, learned the language, and assimilated themselves out of existence." Not only well-written and well-presented, the series is also beautifully shot. On the latter, I particularly enjoyed the instance of the blades of a modern windfarm in Normandy being used as a metaphor of the blades of swords in battle. The series's music is also worthy of note; though, alas, uncredited, it has an epic cinematic quality that perfectly matches the story to be told.
Thankfully, the series engages only minimal attempts at dramatic reconstruction; it is no docudrama (though is that the facial features of Bartlett himself on the dead body of William the Conqueror?). Bartlett skilfully employs the words of contemporary chroniclers and other documents in his argument. He also alludes to other means of communication - such as art, architecture, and archaeology (for example coins) - in trying to understand the Norman mind; and, of course, there is the Bayeux Tapestry.
All this praise is not to say that there are no problems. For instance, the Vikings were not and are not renowned for being especially proficient with the horse or for building in stone, yet Bartlett provides no explanation as to why the Normans became great cavalrymen whilst those in England's Danelaw (for example) did not, or whence the Normans obtained their love of motte and bailey castles. There are, too, some anachronisms; when Bartlett talks of the Domesday Book, I spotted a quick sight of the Luttrell Psalter, and we witness gothic arches on screen when Bartlett refers to the cathedral-building of the Normans.
In the series Bartlett argues that the compilation of Domesday Book was a direct result of King William's need for more money. Dr Stephen Baxter, though, in the hour-long `extra' episode on this disc, sees Domesday as being more in the mould of providing security of title, whilst at the same time confirming William as the legal heir to Edward the Confessor and all landholders being dependent on him. Maybe, but why did William need this? I think Baxter's argument against Domesday being a tax document, whilst interesting, is flawed.
The prerogative of the young, Baxter is brasher than Bartlett. He clearly knows his stuff but is less magisterial. There are problems too: Gloucester Cathedral was not such in 1085, and the Domesday inventory was not "down to the last pig". (This is hype and Baxter knows this.) Nevertheless, this is a good detailed look at Domesday. Along the way we learn, for example, how parchment is made.
There is no book to accompany Bartlett's series, but for those wishing to explore the Norman world of England in print, Bartlett's contributory volume to the New Oxford History of England is also worth five stars.
on 5 May 2012
What makes a good series ? An historical one at that ..Well when first seen on TV , i was captured by the Music , intrigued by the presentation , and more so and im not sure if everyone would agree "THE MIRACLE" that a band of raiding Vikings , could set almost like the Romans did before "The Way " for a more integrating Europe..Yes the bloody battles / and CHANGE over time ...To more culture .religion ,Arts and from the British view point a Government system that once conquered had no equal ,and a power base for the NOW "Normans"..To just about do what they liked throughout the known world..What intrigued me most was the way at the same time William was conquering England , The Normans were also making headway across Europe ..I never really took notice before ,at how this was done , and at what time in History it was done..As alot of us in Britain would agree , we only hear the English side of the Story about Britain ..This series for me demonstrates a modern Army of its time with no equal who seized power,land ,wealth ,titles , almost in desperation !! , if not by WILL alone , when perhaps it was needed then ..Timeing for this ""band of Brothers"" was paramount ..As this series demonstrates so well ..
on 18 September 2015
Another excellent series by the authoritative historian Robert Bartlett. The cinematography is first-class and captures the grandeur of the abbeys, castles and battlefields. Of the three episodes, the middle one is the weakest because it ranges over too many topics, which in turn leads to some glaring omissions. Episode 2 covers from the Norman conquest through to the occupation of Wales and Ireland more than 100 years after the Battle of Hastings. There is, however, little mention of how the legacy of William the Conqueror fared during that period under his less-than-competent successors such as King Stephen.
The DVD also includes a very interesting point-of-view documentary on Domesday Book by Stephen Baxter. He argues (quite convincingly) that Domesday Book was more of a device enabling the king to exercise political control than a tax assessment. In fact, Baxter argues, it would have be rather difficult to use if it was the latter.
on 29 August 2012
I really enjoyed how this documentary was artistically presented (ex. the beautiful background music in parts) as well as very informative. It had very nice views of different buildings and sites in both Normandy region of France as well as in England. Substance is not lacking and much information can be gained from it on the Normans and the narrator seemed like a nice choice..with a likeable personality and sober but still eager ,scholarly manner.
The only small minor complaint I had is the last segment on "The Domesday Book" ,,which had a different presenter..(forget his name, but is one of the names on the box of this DVD). I think it is presented nicely..but a bit long and over analysed for the length of this DVD and part (though not minor) of Norman/English history. (Would rather have had more on the entire Norman history)
The main three-hour series of this two-disc set is an extremely informative historical review of the origin of the Normans and their impact upon Britain, Europe and the wider world. It provides many fascinating insights into how and why British society evolved as it has, and clearly demonstrates that the Normans have had a significant influence opon modern global politics.
However, it's also a little dry in presentation. Prof Bartlett is extremely good a imparting information, but he's nowhere near as engaging as, say, Simon Schama, Nick Crane or Michael Wood. His delivery is somewhat dry and few other experts take part in this series, so each 60 minute programme consists mainly of Prof Bartlett striding around the place, trying to look dynamic. Weird camera angles, repeat shots of burning or fluttering birds, castle walls from strange aspects -- none of these add anything to the series and in fact they distract from the overall experience. It would have been better to do two programmes, or three at 45 minutes, rather than add all the padding.
Those issues aside, the series itself is apcked with information and understanding. From the opening show which explains that the Normans were NorseMen (not French in the slightest!); to the middle episode which explains why the political relationships between England and Scotland, England and Wales, and England and Ireland are all so different; to the final programme which follows the Normans on crusade to the Holy Land, explaining the deep rift between Islam and Christianity which abides to this day; each of the programmes revealed new information and new understandings about these people.
Above all else I came away with the understanding that we are the Normans; that to a large extent the invaders integrated with the British population. Fascinating stuff.
Thoroughly enjoyed the single-hour programme about the Domesday survey, too. Ironically, I would have enjoyed it more if that had been longer, because many of the entries and illustrations of normal like in the 11th century were intriguing.
So while this set is not one of the BBC's best series, it is pretty fair when both progs are packaged together. Very helpful for history students looking to get an overview of the era.
on 28 April 2011
The Normans was a brilliant bit of television when it was aired. History came to life for me watch the series and watching it again on DVD has been a treat. The documentary focuses on the story of the Normans throughout their history. This is more than the nth retelling of the norman conquest of britain - there is a significant history behind the Normans and it is actually really very exciting. I am realy engaged by a documentary when it's more than just a series of dry facts - as history can often be presented. Here history is a grand tale, throughly engaging and fascinating. Professor Bartlett does a great job of enthusing about his subject and we get to visit some great places. I can't really enthuase about this programme enough.
I was less engaged by Doomsday but it is still a superb programme. Dr Baxter is actually very personable and i like that he challenges current theories openly. It's an interesting programme but the Doomsday book in isolation just doesn't have the grand scope of The Normans. What this programme does do well is illustrate the real impact of the norman invasion. I found it surprising and refreshing in a lot of ways and these two programmes together definitely work extremely well.
If you have never been grabbed by Norman History, this programme could well change your outlook. I say give it a go. They are high quality documentaries, packed with information and a worth addition to anyone's shelf.
on 12 December 2010
Not ignoring as a French the french part of the "Normands" history (Normandy...etc), I found it extremely interesting to discover the rest of their incredible and fascinating story in :Sicily, Palestine etc...
Myself, I know that I have Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Norman ancestry, so this series on the Normans I found very engrossing. Professor Robert Bartlett takes us back to the day when the Normans started to gain power in France and then on to their conquests and legacies. Like the Vikings, who the Normans are descended from, they were bloodthirsty, gained power by force and brutality, and then assimilated with the native population. Consequently, due to this they haven't left as much evidence behind them as some other cultures, but what they did leave have been castles and churches, problems that still resonate today, and the beginnings of our law and culture.
From their rise to power in France, onto the conquest of our country in 1066, Professor Bartlett then takes us on to where they played an influential role in the Crusades and the Middle East. Taking in the Bayeaux Tapestry and the Domesday Book, as well as their building work and tactics you really feel that you can get to grips with these people. Of course these people also left a legacy that is felt to this day, with such problems as Ireland and unrest in the Middle East; after all Fundamentalists still cite the crusades. This group of people also kidnapped the Pope to get their ends, so some could say that they weren't all bad. I like many others, my relatives included, love looking at the castles, churches and cathedrals they left behind. I am an atheist, but I love a good building.
Professor Bartlett, unlike some in academia has a down to earth approach and is obviously very knowledgable and enthusiastic on this subject, and that comes across. Indeed it is a pleasure to listen to him, and when this was on tv I was rivetted to the screen. If you are interested in history or just the Normans, then this is well worth watching.