Secrets of Great British Castles

Channel Five

Presented by Historian Dan Jones, this series is actually really good and Channel Five really does seem to be putting money into historical programmes. Which is a very good thing. It shows in this series and it is very good and accurate loking at why castles were built and what gave certain castles an advantage over others, and let's face it we have enough in this country. Dan Jones is excellent and very likeable, and I hope he gets more programmes like this. You can see this on Channel Five and Netflix.

World War II in Colour

On Netflix, World War II in Colour basically does as it says on the tin. This series looks back at various big events that happened such as Blitzkreig, Battle of Britain, Pearl Harbor, The Eastern Front and so on. I thought the series was very good indeed and the colour is good and not over done. In a way because it looks more modern with colour, it kind of makes it feel like it happended not so long ago.

All the dialogue and expertise from the talking heads is of a high standard. You clearly learn something new and what you do already know is re-enforced. An excellent series which if you watch back to back you can see within a long afternoon or evening.

Fury (2014)

In early April 1945, the Allies make their final push into the heart of Nazi Germany. Don "Wardaddy" Collier, a battle-hardened U.S. Army First sergeant in the Second Armoured Division, commands an M4 Sherman "Easy Eight" tank nicknamed Fury and its veteran crew: gunner Boyd "Bible" Swan, loader Grady "Coon-Ass" Travis, driver Trini "Gordo" Garcia, and assistant driver–bow gunner "Red," all of whom have fought together since the North African campaign. Red is killed in action and replaced by Private First Class Norman Ellison, a clerk typist from V Corps who was transferred to be a replacement.

As they move deeper into Germany, Norman's inexperience quickly becomes dangerous: he spots but fails to shoot Hitler Youth child soldiers who ambush the platoon leader's tank with a Panzerfaust, killing the entire crew; later, he hesitates under fire during a skirmish with anti-tank guns.

The tank platoon is ordered to capture and hold a vital crossroads to protect the division's rear echelon. En route, they are ambushed by a SS Tiger tank, which wipes out the entire platoon except for Fury. Fury eventually destroys the Tiger by outmaneuvering it and firing into its thinner rear armour. Unable to notify his superiors because the radio has been damaged, Don decides to try to complete their mission. Upon arriving at the crossroads, the tank is immobilized by a landmine.

The men disguise Fury to make it appear to be knocked out and then hide inside. While they wait, the crew finally gives Norman a nickname – "Machine" – to show their acceptance of him. They then ambush the Germans, inflicting heavy casualties in a long and vicious battle. Grady is killed by a Panzerfaust that penetrates the turret, Gordo is shot while unpinning a grenade and sacrifices himself by covering it before it explodes, then a sniper kills Bible and severely wounds Don. Out of ammunition and surrounded, Don orders Norman to escape through the floor hatch as the Germans drop potato masher grenades into the tank. Norman slips out just before they explode, killing Don.

The next morning, Norman crawls back into the tank, where he covers Don's body with his jacket. He is rescued by American soldiers who praise him as a hero. Fury is a fictional film about a tank crew during the final days of the war in Europe. Ayer was influenced by the service of veterans in his family and by reading books such as Belton Y. Cooper's Death Traps, about American armoured warfare in World War II.

The Dambusters (1955)

The Dam Busters, is a 1955 British epic war film, starring Richard Todd and Michael Redgrave. It was directed by Michael Anderson. The film recreates the true story of Operation Chastise when in 1943 the RAF's 617 Squadron attacked the Möhne, Eder, and Sorpe dams in Nazi Germany with Barnes Wallis's bouncing bomb.

The film was made famous for its bouncing bombs that were used to attack the German dams in WW2. If you ask most Britain to name their favourite war film I would think this would come near the top of the list. Their reputation was then furthered by the subject being spoofed for a beer commercial featuring Carling Black Label during one of the football tournaments.

In early 1942, aeronautical engineer Barnes Wallis was struggling to develop a means of attacking Germany's dams in the hope of crippling German heavy industry. Working for the Ministry of Aircraft Production, as well as his own job at Vickers, he works feverishly to make practical his theory of a bouncing bomb which would skip over the water to avoid protective torpedo nets. When it hit the dam, backspin would make it sink whilst retaining contact with the wall, making the explosion far more destructive. Wallis calculates that the aircraft will have to fly extremely low to enable the bombs to skip over the water correctly, but when he takes his conclusions to the Ministry, he is told that lack of production capacity means they cannot go ahead with his proposals.

Angry and frustrated, Wallis secures an interview with Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris, the head of RAF Bomber Command, who at first is reluctant to take the idea seriously. Eventually, however, he is convinced and takes the idea to the Prime Minister, who authorises the project.

Bomber Command forms a special squadron of Lancaster bombers, 617 Squadron, to be commanded by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, and tasked to fly the mission. He recruits experienced crews, especially those with low-altitude flight experience. While they train for the mission, Wallis continues his development of the bomb but has problems, such as the bomb breaking apart upon hitting the water. This requires the drop altitude to be reduced to 60 feet. With only a few weeks to go, he succeeds in fixing the problems and the mission can go ahead.

The bombers attack the dams. Eight Lancasters and their crews are lost, but two dams are breached and the overall mission succeeds. The film is largely historically accurate, with only a small number of changes made for reasons of dramatic licence. Some errors derive from Paul Brickhill's book, which was written when much detail about the raid was not yet in the public domain.

ZULU (1964)

Zulu is a 1964 British epic war film depicting the Battle of Rorke's Drift between the British Army and the Zulus in January 1879, during the Anglo-Zulu War. It shows how 150 British soldiers, many of whom were sick and wounded patients in a field hospital, successfully held off a force of 4,000 Zulu warriors. The film is notable for showing the Zulu army as disciplined and governed by strategy.

A company of the British Army's 24th Regiment of Foot is using the missionary station of Rorke's Drift in Natal as a supply depot and hospital for their invasion force across the border in Zululand. Realising that they cannot outrun the Zulu army with wounded soldiers, Chard decides to make a stand at the station, using wagons, sacks of mealie, and crates of ship's biscuit to form a defensive perimeter. Witt becomes drunk and demoralises the men with his overtly dire predictions; the soldiers of the Natal Native Contingent desert. Chard orders Witt to be locked up in a supply room.

Throughout the day and night, wave after wave of Zulu attackers are repelled. The Zulus succeed in setting fire to the hospital, leading to intense fighting between British patients and Zulu warriors as the former try to escape the flames. Private Henry Hook takes charge and leads the patients to safety. The next morning, the Zulus approach to within several hundred yards and begin a war chant, as a sign of respect; the British respond by singing the Welsh song "Men of Harlech". In the final assault, just as it seems the Zulus will finally overwhelm the tired defenders, the British soldiers fall back to a small redoubt constructed out of mealie bags. With a reserve of soldiers hidden within the redoubt, they form into three ranks and fire volley after volley, inflicting heavy casualties; the Zulus retreat. After a pause of three hours, the Zulus re-form on the Oscarberg. Resigned to another assault, the British are astonished when the Zulus instead sing a song to honour the bravery of the defenders before departing.

The film ends with another narration by Richard Burton, listing the eleven defenders who received the Victoria Cross for the defence of Rorke's Drift, the most awarded to a regiment in a single action up to that time.

The basic premises of the film are true and largely accurate, but is not a historical re-enactment of real events. The heavily outnumbered British successfully defended Rorke's Drift more or less as portrayed in the film. Writer Cy Endfield even consulted a Zulu tribal historian for information from Zulu oral tradition about the attack.

The Zulus did not sing a song saluting fellow warriors, and departed at the approach of the British relief column. This inaccuracy has been praised for showing the Zulus in a positive light and for treating them and the British as equals, but it has also been criticised as undermining any anti-imperial message of the film. Stanley Baker purchased John Chard's Victoria Cross in 1972 believing it to be a replica. After Baker's death, it was sold to a collector at a low price but then found to be the genuine medal.

Braveheart (1995)

In 1280, King Edward "Longshanks" invades and conquers Scotland following the death of Alexander III of Scotland, who left no heir to the throne. Young William Wallace witnesses Longshanks' treachery, survives the deaths of his father and brother, and is taken abroad on a pilgrimage throughout Europe by his paternal uncle Argyle, where he is educated. Meanwhile, a grown Wallace returns to Scotland and falls in love with his childhood friend Murron MacClannough, and the two marry in secret. Wallace rescues Murron from being raped by English soldiers, but as she fights off their second attempt, Murron is captured and publicly executed. In retribution, Wallace leads his clan to slaughter the English garrison in his hometown and send the occupying garrison at Lanark back to England.

Longshanks orders his son Prince Edward to stop Wallace by any means necessary.

Alongside his friend Hamish, Wallace rebels against the English, and as his legend spreads, hundreds of Scots from the surrounding clans join him. Wallace leads his army to victory at the Battle of Stirling and then destroys the city of York, killing Longshanks' nephew and sending his severed head to the king. Wallace seeks the assistance of Robert the Bruce, the son of nobleman Robert the Elder and a contender for the Scottish crown. Robert is dominated by his father, who wishes to secure the throne for his son by submitting to the English. Worried by the threat of the rebellion, Longshanks sends his son's wife Isabella of France to try to negotiate with Wallace as a distraction for the landing of another invasion force in Scotland.

In 1298, leading the English army himself, Longshanks confronts the Scots at Falkirk. There, noblemen Mornay and Lochlan turn their backs on Wallace after being bribed by the king, resulting in the death of Hamish's father, Campbell. Wallace is then further betrayed when he discovers Robert the Bruce was fighting alongside Longshanks; after the battle, after seeing the damage he helped do to his countrymen, the Bruce reprimands his father and vows not to be on the wrong side again.

In London, Wallace is brought before an English magistrate, tried for high treason, and condemned to public torture and beheading. Even whilst being hanged, drawn and quartered, Wallace refuses to submit to the king. The watching crowd, deeply moved by the Scotsman's valor, begin crying for mercy. The magistrate offers him one final chance, asking him only to utter the word, "Mercy", and be granted a quick death. Wallace instead shouts, "Freedom!", and the judge orders his death. As Wallace's cry rings through the square, Longshanks hears it just before dying.

In 1314, Robert, now Scotland's king, leads a Scottish army before a ceremonial line of English troops on the fields of Bannockburn, where he is to formally accept English rule. As he begins to ride toward the English, he stops and invokes Wallace's memory. Hamish throws Wallace's sword, Braveheart, point-down in front of the English army, imploring his men to fight with Robert as they did with Wallace. With the Scots chanting Wallace's name, Robert then leads his army into battle against the stunned English, winning the Scots their freedom.

Now I have to say this, and the diehard fans even have to admit this but Braveheart is one of the most historically inaccurate films made. From the Battle of Stirling Bridge and there being no bridge, to the fact they're wearing kilts, that weren't around for another 500 years to some of the main characters not even being around when the others were. The list could go on and on and there are numerous YouTube videos and websites proving this. A friend once said 'Mel Gibson would have us believe after having your lungs and stomach ripped out you could still yell Freedom.'So feel free to watch this film and enjoy it, but don't watch it for historical accuracies.

I would say that if it did do anything it put the umpth back into a Scottish nation who if you ask the Scots, Welsh and Irish are always treated as inferior by the English.

The Last Kingdom BBC/Netflix

The Last Kingdom tells the story of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a Saxon noble who is captured and raised by the Danes, first as a slave and then as a son. His future will be one of battle within and without, fighting against powerful warlords and struggling between his love for the Danes and their culture and his duty for the Saxons.

At the center of The Last Kingdom is its characters and the show presents and develops then masterfully. The acting is surprisingly good, I would say the majority of the show is good and accurate. There are some parts and characters that you can believe and historicaly they can be supported, but then there are others that come along later in reality. But I don't actually think this detracts much from the series'

Add to that a great score, beautiful scenery and great acting (although a little bit inconsistent in some moments) and you have the recipes for a series that stand tall and deserves to be seen. No matter what you like, The Last Kingdom (the first two episodes together are a nice demonstration of everything good about this story) might offer something for you. I would recommend this series' and I would say it is produced to a far better standard than the BBC usually does. The story is very good and the characters and people are very believable, certainly worth a watch.

Blackadder 2,3 & 4

In my opinion and it is right in this case, Blackadder's are the finest comedies ever written. All four series are set in the past Elizabethan, Prince Regent and World War I periods. Starring the likes of Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Tony Robinson and co. Written by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton. The comedy is brilliant, so quick and sarcastic.

Notice here that I haven't mentioned the first Blackadder series as this was absolutely rubbish, poorly written and just not funny. Luckily the series was recommissioned and Ben Elton was introduced, and things just became a roaring success. As with all history-based shows they have to be good but it has to be historically accurate, which it is. The team of actors and writers all collaborate on the show and the team effect shows through with the excellent jokes and script. The final scenes in the final show of the fourth series where the men go over the top out of the trenches has been widely praised as one of the best bits of comedy ever seen.

Hitler's Circle of Evil - Netflix

This an excellent drama/documentary that looks at all the characters in Hitler's Inner Circle during the rise and fall of the Third Reich. This, in my opinion, is an excellent series of about 7 episodes looking at the various people from Hitler to Hess to Goering etc. The information and drama sections are very good and historically accurate. Even I learnt quite a bit which is why I would recommend it to everyone. The drama doesn't go over the top or isn't inaccurate, it is excellent and well done. I would recommend this series to my students.