“Tom’s visiting Ruth in the hovel…” This BBC five-parter concerns a trio of British archeologists who head over to France to lend a hand in a 25 year long project to build a castle from scratch using only 13th century techniques. During their six month stay they master various ancient crafts such as making a paint brush out of badger fur and a feather, while also dressing up in silly clothes and, one can only assume, donning some very scratchy ye olde underwear.
More glossy educational fare than fly on the wall TV, the series doesn’t go into the chafing day to day realities of their plight, which is a shame, but it manages to be charming and very nice to look out and it’s full of tips for anyone who fancies having a go at building a castle themselves. Rocking a snood, feisty female presenter Ruth Goodman tries her hand at making a nail, but it has to be said that this is very much a show about boys and their Medieval toys – just check out those lethal-looking Dark Ages power tools. All of this reaches its apogee in a lively episode about the castle’s defences, where the lads get to play with a siege engine and a crossbow.
Just occasionally it’s possible to feel overwhelmed by all the chopping and hewing and male camaraderie, but thankfully the series has its gentler, less muscular moments too, as when the presenters deck out one of the castle’s rooms in some authentic, wincingly bright 13th century interior design (apparently those lords of old liked to tart up the outside of their castles too, making them about as dark and brooding as a Vegas chapel).
Overall, even when it is being quite bloke-ish, there’s something rather soothing about Secrets of the Castle, and after a hard day in the office you could do worse than switch off your mobile phone, settle down with this DVD box set and enjoy a pleasant respite from the 21st century.