Sunday, 14 December 2008

The Devil's Whore

For some time, I have been contemplating a blog on the above-named English Civil War drama on Channel 4. Then, when doing some last-minute research, I noticed that Madam Miaow has already produced a very good review of the series, so l will restrict myself to some comments.

I am not normally a fan of costume drama, but I thought
The Devil’s Whore was very entertaining. It captured a lot of the violence and uncertainty of the times. The English scenery was impressive, especially as the series was filmed in South Africa! Historically, there seem to be some inaccuracies, but I don’t mind artistic licence. As far as I can gather, the heroine Angelica Fanshawe didn’t exist. Confusingly, at the start of each series, the producers appear to claim otherwise but does it matter? Some viewers have complained that it tears through history at a breakneck speed, and it is therefore hard to follow. This is a fair criticism. Cromwell’s campaign in Ireland was covered in what seemed like about a minute! But, in defence of the producers, I am told that the series was originally scheduled for twelve episodes but had to be cut down to four. The series impressed me because it didn’t come across as modern characters in period dress like so many historical pieces do. It made me want to investigate the period more, and prompted a search on Wikipedia.

I was particularly interested in the sects that appeared at the time. Angelica in turn became involved with the Levellers, the Diggers and the High Attainers (who were derogatorily known as Ranters). The first, whilst not being early socialists, had some egalitarian ambitions. The second seemed to have been commune types. The third seemed the most exciting, and were apparently keen on taking their clothes off and enjoying life for the moment (as are
Stoke Socialist Party).

Jim Moody has posted an interesting
review of the Devil’s Whore in issue 748 of the CPGB’s Weekly Worker. Also, for a thought-provoking discussion on the three schools of analysis of the English Civil War (Whig, Marxist and revisionist), go to Wikipedia and then to the article by Glen Burgess in the footnotes.

I look forward to some interesting discussion on
The Devil’s Whore.

11 comments:

Cat said...

Did not watch it but the best ever covering of Cromwell's sacking of Ireland is in the Ladybird books on Oliver Cromwell, on the last page it says

"Cromwell was a good man. He was deeply religious and neither greedy nor - except in Ireland - cruel. He was a good father to his children and a friend to all honest men."

Dave Semple said...

How are you defining socialism when discussing the Levellers?

Leveller was the name given to the Agitators elected by the New Model Army, and to their supporters, most of whom sought to oppose the autocracy of the republican Grandees and to consolidate the process (ongoing in the countryside) of peasant appropriation of agriculture.

The industrial basis didn't exist for a proletarian movement, but such as did exist in the towns declared for the Levellers. Men like Lilburne and Overton weren't really Levellers - they were at a remove from this grassroots movement that sprang up when it witnessed Lilburne et al under attack by the republican establishment.

There's a wonderful book by a chap called James Holstun, "Ehud's Dagger" which I really recommend for an innovative approach to Marxist history from below, and particularly to Leveller and Digger pamphlets and an analysis of the praxis of those groups as regards the New Model (which Holstun provocatively refers to as the New Model Soviets).

Brother S said...

Thanks for this, Dave. This is all a learning curve for me. So they were early socialists at the grassroots level. Interesting.

BS

Eddie Truman said...

Christopher Hill's book 'The World Turned Upside Down' is a must read for comrades, top Marxist historian.

Madam Miaow said...

Thanks for the mention, Bro S.

Ultimately, the series wasn't as gripping as a classic like, I, Claudius, but, as you say, having only four episodes in which to develop the story was a severe hobbling it could have done without.

But top Marx to Peter Flannery for slipping in some socialist history and hinting at the complexity of the times and not reducing it to some Manichean duality.

Phil BC said...

Cat, that reminds me of what is often said of the Kray Twins: "... at least they were good to their mum!"

Bro S, I have missed the last three branch meeting, so when did nude lead offs become de rigeur?

Phil said...

Fantastic book on the diggers and ranters by Christopher Hill called The World Turned Upside Down. The Diggers seem very impressive in their proto-socialism, the ranters as you say, mainly like to run around in the buff.

Ken said...

One of the most amazing books I've ever read is The Law of Freedom, a Penguin Classic collection of writings by the Digger Gerard Winstanley, edited and introduced by Christopher Hill. There's something utterly uncanny about Winstanley: he reads like a time traveller trying to expound Marxism from the Bible. His focus is the wage earner, the ;hired servant'. He even calls for the election and recall of officials of the communist state so that they do not 'degenerate in office'.

Madam Miaow said...

Kevin Brownlow says his old film, Winstanley, is out on dvd next year. He's very interested in this whole period.

Phil BC said...

To my shame I know absolutely zero about this most radical period of English history, except quite a lot of people like to dress up as roundheads and cavaliers and re-enact civil war battles (why?) As I'm responsible for the Stoke branch programme I wouldn't be averse to abusing my position and getting comrades to do a series of linked themed lead offs on this period.

Seán said...

Agreed the series needed to a great deal longer to do justice to the complex ideas of the period. Just when the political/religious debates were getting interesting, we had to return to the limp plot involving Angelica and the Tim McInnerny character.

I’ve nothing against the ‘fictionalisation’ of some aspects – but the ideas about why the Civil War/Revolution erupted were lost for the most part. My partner, who is a history grad, (Russian specialist) was lost and gave up halfway through. She said she felt confused and didn’t have the requisite knowledge about the period.

I stuck with it because of my interest in the period. Some great English writers emerged during this period, notably John Milton and John Bunyan (Christopher Hill has written a good book about Bunyan too). Their work is soaked with the debates about religious and political authority during this period.

There were also many differences between various ranters, diggers, levellers, puritans etc. fighting against the monarchy and privilege. However, their religious ideas were inseparable from the political ferment they found themselves in. The spiritual arguments enunciated in their tracts, pamphlets and polemics contained criticisms of the material world they inhabited. Like blogging today, there was an explosion in publishing one’s opinions, thoughts, religious torment, cake recipes, cat’s habits etc. during this period.

As for the portrayal of the ranters - like the Quakers (another derogatory term) who also emerged during this time - a great deal of propaganda, wild rumour and gossip about their sexual shenanigans was used to suppress them, and stop them preaching and pamphleteering. There was also a great deal of in-fighting and personal jealousies amongst the radicals. Ring any bells?

The majority of English people know very little of the period apart from those ridiculous enactment and the lazy metaphors attached to the both sides. Would you like to be a dour and workman-like ‘roundhead’ or perhaps a spontaneous and dashing ‘cavalier’? Ironic indeed that those with the radical, groundbreaking ideas, those with a completely new vision for the world are pejoratively called ‘roundheads’ nowadays and those whose ideas were conservative and rooted in the past are so-called ‘cavalier’. Says a great deal about who eventually won this battle.

However, as the Digger’s song says, “Still the vision lingers on.”

Sorry to go...I was so excited when I saw the trailers for this programme. At least we've had an English Civil War drama. And I did enjoy it.