Last year, while lurking about on Facebook, I found an advertisement on the right side of my personal page, displaying brief information about Battle Castle. I can’t remember word for word that punch line, but it gripped my attention. I Liked the Battle Castle page and followed the series on the History Television network.
Battle Castle is a six part mini-series. In each episode, Historian Dan Snow tours a castle and elaborates on the historical significance of each castle and about the wars that took place there. The team at Parallax Films complemented Snow’s narrative with vivid and dramatic reenactments of siege warfare. It was a combination of everything: Snow’s passion and enthusiasm for medieval warfare, the reenactments, shots of the castles and my own love of medieval history that made me fall in love with this show.
Since the day I found Battle Castle, I have been an avid follower. So much that I have requested to interview Parallax Film Productions Executive Producer, Maija Leivo.
What inspired you to produce the mini-series, Battle Castle?
I have an MA in History and have always loved English history. When I finally got to London for the first time, my first stop was the Tower. I wanted to experience that place where so many significant historical events had happened.
On the other hand, our Director Ian Herring approaches things from an engineering perspective. He wants to know why they built these structures in this particular way and how were they able to create the features from stone. Battle Castle is the attempt to incorporate both kinds of storylines.
What was it like touring those castles, learning about their historical significance? What images came to your mind?
It really was amazing. As I learned more and visited the sites, I couldn’t help but appreciate that every single stone was set into place by human hands. It was very tactile to be able to run your hands across the walls. This was particularly true of the ashlar masonry at Crac des Chevaliers. You can clearly see how perfectly shaped each stone was and how tightly they were fit together. I developed a huge respect for the masterminds who planned and executed these projects without the benefit of digital technology
What is it about medieval warfare and castles you find so intriguing?
Benjamin Michaudel who was our expert at Crac des Chevaliers really got me thinking about this. He pointed out that what we see today of castles are really just the skeletons of what they were. We don’t see or understand the efforts that went into drainage or can’t imagine the splendor of the painted plaster that would have covered the walls. These buildings are all about the details and the more time I spent in castles, the greater my appreciation.
I also came to admire the evolution of castles and how the builders were constantly improving and upgrading the designs as new technologies were introduced. There were plans for every contingency and most castles were designed specifically for the location to exploit natural features. It was rare for the castle itself to fail, the weakest links were usually the people.
Most, if not all, of Europe’s castles are in decay. Do you think they should be preserved? Why?
That’s a tough question. There are literally thousands of castles across Europe and realistically there are not the resources to preserve everything. Should they be protected? I think so. English Heritage and CADW do a fine job from what I can see. I do worry that people come away with a rather sanitized version, though, with the grass neatly trimmed and people in costume, portraying what life may have been like in the Middle Ages. I’d give anything to see the shacks that would have been built up against the castle walls and have the animals wandering around. On the other hand, we likely overstate the drama, as for most castle keepers it would have been a pretty quiet gig at those border outposts. Like even modern military experiences, there would have been hours of boredom alternating with moments of terror during war time.
Would you consider producing a second season of Battle Castle?
We would love to.
Would you consider producing more historical documents in the near future?
It is the kind of storytelling we like best. I’ve always maintained that real life is infinitely stranger than fiction and that we honestly couldn’t make this stuff up.
We’re always looking for good stories to tell. One of the challenges in the broadcast world right now is that it is hard to get support for less well known topics. People generally tune into the familiar, which is why there are so many stories about things like the Great Pyramid, and it is hard to get buy in for stories about ancient Mayan sites, for example.
Battle Castle is available on the iTunes store. Is it also available on Netflix?
It depends on your territory. In Canada, you can purchase Battle Castle on iTunes, or stream it from the History Television website.
Battle Castle DVDs will be released in the UK next month.
We’re hoping to release DVDs for places outside Canada and the UK in the summer.
Where can people learn more about Battle Castle?
We have lots of places for people who want to learn more about Battle Castle.
The obvious starting place is our website: www.battlecastle.tv.
Our You Tube channel (www.youtube.com/BattleCastle) has a bunch of Dan Snow location vlogs, as well as behind the scenes content with the crew on location.
We also created a series of motion graphic comics that set up the sieges at our castles. These were fun to do. It was a place to play with some of rumours and theories about our characters that it was hard to weave into the television documentary.
Finally we have a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/BattleCastle) and Twitter feed (www.twitter.com/BattleCastle) that have become hangouts for castle lovers.