Sometimes you just want to watch something like The Great British Bakeoff and not a full-blown costume drama, but you’re still in the mood for something costumey (and you have to write a post about it or else Trystan will beat you), so what do you do? You turn to a show like Secrets of the Castle (2014) which manages to scratch both the itch for edutainment and something with really good history content. We have covered documentaries before, so this isn’t really veering too far off brand for this blog, but usually we are calling out docus with egregious costuming and not celebrating it.
Hosted by Peter Ginn, Ruth Goodman, and Tom Pinfold, this series delves into the creation of a 13th-century castle from the perspective of the people living and working on the site (filmed on location at Château de Guédelon in Burgundy, a living history experiment in medieval construction methods that is still ongoing).
This is a show that is sure to delight anyone who wants to get very nerdy about limewash and stonemasonry, but the real delight is watching Ruth Goodman enthusiastically tackle the cooking and sewing projects that arise in each episode. Honestly, I could watch her nerd out about wool batting and spit roasting forever.
I had the pleasure of meeting Ruth very briefly some years back, so I’ve already been well aware of her cred when it comes to costuming. Her outfit may not look like much, but it’s accurate down to the stitch.
Peter and Tom, who are put to work on the castle building, wear mostly historically accurate outfits, but often you will notice that they (and other craftsmen) are wearing modern shoes and other kinds of protective gear. Makes sense when you’re shlepping hundreds of pounds of stone through dirt and mud and hoisting them into place with medieval technology!
The story of the castle unfolds over the course of four 1-hour long episodes, so that by the final episode, you see aspects of life from within the (painted) castle walls. And Ruth is always impeccably dressed with her hair done up in a fillet and barbette, whether she’s making rushes to line the floors of a simple workman’s cottage or embroidering a panel in the lady of the castle’s quarters. The discussion of how pigments and dyes are made from what was readily available in the surrounding area is also interesting to anyone who spends a lot of time wondering how they get those colors.
Ruth, Tom, and Peter all turn up again in other related series, along with new friends, in the BBC’s historic farm series, covering the Tudor era to the Victorian period, so this is will likely come up again on this blog at some point. I love documentaries, especially ones that tell me about how things were done in the past, and so I’m really looking forward to binging all of it.
Have you watched Secrets of the Castle (2014)? Tell us about it in the comments!