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New Communist Party of Britain

TV Review Cromwell: All Warts?

Oliver Cromwell: Warts And All

by Andy Brooks

The BBC used to pride itself in the quality of its documentaries. But standards nowadays are clearly sacrificed on the altar of expediency if this drama-documentary on Cromwell shown on Monday is anything to go by.

Part of the "Charles 11 season", the film claimed to go "behind the myths to explain how a Puritan farmer could win the civil war for the Roundheads, kill a king, and take over the country". But apart from a few sound-bites from two academics it went little beyond the received bourgeois myth of school text-books and popular fiction.

Errors

Putting aside the irritating factual errors that could so easily have been corrected the central flaw is the attempt to reduce the English Revolution to a comic-book struggle between conflicting personalities and religious trends.

The programme assumes the viewer knows nothing about these events but then goes on to spread more confusion in its attempt to do justice to the memory of Cromwell in 60 minutes.

Considerable time is spent on the trial and execution of Charles Stuart in 1649 but there's no explanation of what came after. Incredibly the words "Commonwealth" or "republic" are never mentioned. We're told that England after 1649 was the only country in Europe without a king which isn't true unless you don't count Venice and the Dutch republic. And the suppression of the radical Levellers by the Cromwell leadership is reduced to an imaginary dialogue between Cromwell and Lilburn.

Recognise

The conclusion does recognise the importance of Cromwell as one of "the most important characters of British history" but makes no serious attempt to tell us why.

Why is the word "republic" still taboo in some quarters as far as English history is concerned? It was, afterall, what the Commonwealth was, and indeed it was how it styled itself in French and Latin during its existence.

 Why is it that the poetry of Milton and Marvell go largely unrecognised on television while lesser artists are elevated?

The answer is simply that the ruling class is unable to come to terms with the English Revolution even though over three centuries have passed since those epic days. That in itself would be an interesting topic for a documentary.

The New Worker - 27th November 2003