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Flamborough (Carol Walkington): Week 3 – 6th September

As I get older—and let’s face it, getting older is currently the thing I’m best at—I find myself vexed by the inaccuracies of historical movies. I don’t mean the sort of nit-picking that objects to the colour of a particular train, or the badge on the cap of a particular soldier; I really don’t care if that tank wasn’t used in that battle. I’m willing to overlook the fact that none of the main cast in a medieval movie wears a helmet—fair enough, you’ve got to recognise your talent on screen, even if in reality Henry V would be left wandering the battlefield looking for his nose after Agincourt. I can even just about accept Elizabeth I meeting Mary, Queen of Scots in person, even though she didn’t; they sent each other letters, after all.

Powderpuff thistle seeds

So I’m not a purist. As a medievalist, though, I do rather despair of the way battles are depicted. I mean, think about it. The two sides line up and face each other. There’s a tense standoff, giving our fictional hero (Aragorn, Russell Crowe) the opportunity to deliver a few inspirational lines. Then everyone suddenly goes berserk and runs screaming at each other; within seconds the battle is a whirling chaos of combatants, each in their own space, allowing everyone plenty of room to fight their individual duels. When you kill your opponent you look around and choose someone else to fight. It’s crazy. Apart from anything else, how do you know which side is winning? How do you even know which side you’re on? Most wounds in the battle of Towton (1461) were in the legs, which suggest a rather less chivalrous reality (not much protection below the knees). No, the best way to imagine medieval battles is to think of a rugby scrum, with lots of shoving and jostling until one side gives way; or, perhaps, a collision in the car park between two sets of psychopathic line dancers armed with gardening forks.

Ruin in Pulteneytown, near the harbour

The most inaccurate historical movie of all time, of course, has to be Braveheart, a film which has entire websites dedicated to its flaws. Some of the more egregious include the use of woad (1,000 years too late), kilts and tartan (300 years too early), depicting thirteenth century Scots as living in mud huts, and setting the battle of Stirling Bridge—the clue’s in the name—nowhere near a bridge. Queen Isabella, seduced by Mel Gibson in the movie, was in fact nine years old and living in France at the time, leading one historian to observe that Wallace would have had to be a time-travelling paedophile to make this bit plausible. (John O’Farrell in An Utterly Impartial History of Britain said that the film couldn’t have been more inaccurate if a plasticine dog was added to the cast, and the film was retitled William Wallace and Gromit.) And the sad thing is, the real story of Wallace is way better than the movie. On the other hand, compared with that other Gibson farrago The PatriotBraveheart is almost a model of accuracy: in fact, I’m coming to think the only really accurate historical movie featuring Gibson is the first Mad Max—which, after all, was originally set in 1984…


In gansey news, I’ve almost reached the gussets. (This is not so much a sign of rapid progress, as of the recipient being somewhat petite—so the length of gansey will be 23 inches top to bottom, instead of my more usual 27-28 inches.) The pattern has settled down, though it’s still too scrunched up to see distinctly—we’ll have to wait till it’s blocked for that. So far the only nuisance is having the hearts (at 17 rows) end on an odd row, which puts them out of synch with the diamonds. Next time I’d probably make them 16 rows and save myself some maths.

8 comments to Flamborough (Carol Walkington): Week 3 – 6th September

  • oh dear..so star treck not true after all? wait a minute ..some of it coming true…..
    they wrote the future.ah! thats the clue.
    regarding age…the modern view is that time does not exist..so…i will remember that when my birthday comes round again.

    • Gordon

      Hi Meg, have you seen the utterly marvellous film “Galaxy Quest”? The premise is that a race of aliens have received transmissions of a Star Trek-type show, think they are “historical documents”, and travel to earth to bring the washed-up actors home, to save them from an evil warlord. Just wonderful from start to finish!

      • Meg Macleod

        no.not seen that…reliving the star tresk phenomena on tv….how dated the original series and how special it was at the time!!..

        • Gordon

          Like old Doctor Who, the original Star Trek still can send shivers down my spine. There’s one episode about a planet-destroying machine which threatens to devour the Enterprise which holds up remarkably well.

          I read a great book about the making of Star Trek, and there’s an episode (which freaked me out as a bairn) where they beam onto a planet, and these manta-ray type creatures glide down from the ceiling, attach themselves to the crew’s backs, and take them over; well, apparently they were running out of time and budget, so the evil creatures were actually plastic vomit bought from a joke shop!

  • =Tamar

    Having watched re-enactor battles (genuine fights with padding and wooden weapons), I think that’s where the movies get it.
    What peeves me mildly is inaccurate costuming when the costume designer loudly (and falsely) proclaims how accurate they are being. Oh, and those BBC-mud+rags outfits they stick on anyone not a noble.

    The sweater is cute, even if the hearts don’t line up with the diamonds…

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, it would be interesting someone did a “Saving Private Ryan” on a medieval battle, and tried to get it right. But of course it wouldn’t make good cinema.

      You’re right, the hearts and diamonds don’t align. It’s gonna be interesting when we reach the shoulder (a race to the top?)!

  • =Tamar

    Galaxy Quest is wonderful! I strongly recommend it!

    • Gordon

      Yes! Very funny, and SO clever! And Alan Rickman steals yet another movie from under the noses of the rest of the cast. It’s often described as the best unofficial Star Trek movie, and with good reason.

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