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DVD Review: Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives
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Medieval LivesTerry Jones’ Medieval Lives
Hosted by Terry Jones
BBC Video
Release date: April 1, 2008

In Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives, the Monty Python alum takes a humorous, yet informative look back at the Middle Ages. As a companion piece to Terry Jones‘ book — Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives — this documentary program, which original aired on BBC, consists of half-hour documentaries exploring the myths and legends of the various classes and professions of the Medieval period.

Each of the eight episodes on this 2-disc DVD explores a different Medieval role — The Peasant, The Monk, The Damsel, The Minstrel, The Knight, The Philosopher, The Outlaw, and The King — and whether the popular conceptions of these people have any basis of truth.

The series uses a combination of reenactments — comedically provided by Jones, who’s no stranger to mocking the Middle Ages — with artwork and Python-esque animations, along with interviews with Medieval scholars and visits to historical locations.

In “The Damsel,” Jones explains that the medieval damsel is our archetype of the passive female — helpless, always in need, and in distress. But did she really exist? As expected, we see Jones dressed in womanly garb as a damsel up in a high room of a castle, awaiting her knight in shining armor. As it turns out, the damsel in distress was not commonplace in the Middle Ages. As society became sophisticated, so did women’s roles. By the 14th century, women became more empowered and their status was shown by the clothing they wore. But then the Black Death came, which wiped out half the population of England, and women had to take on roles that were traditionally held by men. This is when the “business” damsel emerged.

In another segment, “The Minstrel,” we learn that the Minstrel was more than a happy-go-lucky traveling musician. The Medieval Minstrel was literally a servant, and they did things like serve as night watchmen, they could raise the alarm if a castle was under siege, or sound the bugle in battle to rally the troops or cheer them on. They acted as propagandists and even spies. These same servants provided entertainment off the battlefield, with stories told through song with lots gory details included called chansons de gest or songs of great deeds, like The Song Of Roland. Here, Jones visits with a chansons de gest expert, and they listen to a modern-day minstrel sing the Song of Roland.

The DVD takes a serious turn in the DVD Extras, which consists of the 50-minute documentary “Gladiators: The Brutal Truth.” This is a straight-forward look at the life of the Gladiator and the horrific events that took place in the arenas. Gone from this segment are the funny reenactments and cute animations, though near the end Jones does don the gladiator garb to inadequately attempt to learn how to fight in hand-to-hand combat and with weapons.

If you’re a fan of Terry Jones and/or Monty Python and enjoy your history with a side of humor, you’ll love this documentary series. I definitely did.

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