This exciting new documentary follows Dan Snow as he visits some of the most renowned castles in the world, from Krak Des Chevaliers, Dover Castle, and Malbork Castle, to Château Gaillard and Málaga Castle.
We start at the magnificent Krak Des Chevaliers in Syria, where Snow focuses on the materials, the landscape, and the techniques that influence the building of such a stronghold. Home to the Knights Hopitaller in 1142, the castle dominated the surrounding area, its walls withstanding Muslim raids and sieges for much of the 13th century. The narrative is cleverly punctuated by well-shot battle re-enactments and the inclusion of working medieval siege weapon is a welcome addition to the first episode. Seeing the trebuchet being grappled with by seven men gives you a sense of how difficult these machines would have been to operate.
Episode two joins Louis VIII’s French Army arriving at Dover to seize the English crown from King John. Men charging, men impaled on spikes, fire, smoke, and swordfights set the scene for this next instalment. Snow provides the historical context before exploring how the castle was created. We are told of the challenges faced by Maurice, the mysterious, well-paid engineer who designed it, who struggled sourcing the materials in a land of soft chalk. Moving graphics and maps help the audience understand exactly how formidable the castle’s defences were. The Averanches Tower was manned by crossbowmen, the outer towers were rounded to avoid undermining, and the perrier anti-personnel weapon – another live firing of which we are treated to – rapidly fired deadly projectiles.
The series follows this effective formula for the remaining episodes. Pivotal moments in the castles’ histories are selected to create a feeling of suspense. Very often, the battle around which each episode centres is a key point in the country’s history, the outcome of which rides on whether or not the castle can hold.
The three-disc, six-episode series culminates at the fortifications at Malága, where a vast Christian army is hoping to storm the Muslim-held dual strongholds. This final episode runs more like a film with running commentary from Snow and excellent re-enactment. Too many documentaries of this genre tend to ham up the re-enactments, to repeat the few good bits over and over, or to settle for mediocre effects. Battle Castle does not fall victim to any of these pitfalls, managing to combine a filmic setting with an authoritative voice
This is a must-see for the medievalist and is highly recommended for any armchair historian. The history is well-researched and accurate, the style ticks all the right boxes, and the cinematography is superb, with stunning shots of the castles, and apocalyptic sweeping clouds providing the backdrop. Dan Snow is proving himself to be an entertaining and engaging presenter, passionate about his subject-matter and eager to get involved with all aspects of each castle’s design and defences.