Magazine article History Today

East Beats West: Tom Bowers Previews the History Channel's New Series on the Crusades and Finds out What Is Different from Previous Attempts to Put the Holy Wars on Screen

Magazine article History Today

East Beats West: Tom Bowers Previews the History Channel's New Series on the Crusades and Finds out What Is Different from Previous Attempts to Put the Holy Wars on Screen

Article excerpt

CAN TELEVISION offer a genuine contemporary insight into the wars of the eleventh and twelfth centuries?

The History Channel's The Crusades: Crescent & The Cross illuminates the historical roots of Christian-Islamic conflict, using historical sources from both cultures and perspectives. Warfare and religion, the defining elements of the era, are brought to life onscreen and the struggles to reach Jerusalem of the First, Second and Third Crusade provide the basis for the story.

The programme uses reconstructions, primary sources, and computer generated animation (once the preserve of big budget movies), alongside commentators such as Tariq Ali and expert historians including Dr Jonathan Phillips and Professor John France.

Actors play the chief chroniclers of the period: Ibn Al-Athir, William of Tyre, and Saladin's friend and advisor, Baha al-Din Ibn Shaddad, while an anonymous Crusader narrates the Gesta Francorum (A History of the Franks). Recent translations of Arabic records of the Crusades were used to examine other characters in-depth such as the Muslim leader Nur al-Din and Richard the Lionheart.

At a recent meeting of the programme makers in Istanbul, Dr Phillips explained his role as series consultant: 'We went to considerable lengths to make the story as balanced and accurate as possible. This programme reflects how our understanding of the Islamic side of the Crusades is changing.' He added: 'It is in many ways an unpleasant story, but it is unpleasant across the board; the balance is what we were after. …

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