Historical fiction programmes are currently big business. Over the last couple of years a glut of programmes 'based on' or 'inspired by' true events have taken over the airwaves from the rise of the Roman Empire in Rome to the lives of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in Desperate Romantics. However, the programme which has caused the most stir in this field is The Tudors, based on the life of Henry VIII.
The Tudors has been the subject of endless debate amongst History tutors, English tutors and the population in general. It sticks loosely to the facts, in that the wives, children and courtiers are all present and correct, but takes massive liberties in narrative. In the season recently finished on BBC 2 Henry should be in his fifties, bloated and in constant agony. Instead he is still in his twenties and looks like an underwear model.
Clearly this is not a documentary, but it is engaging to a wide audience and its popularity has raised the profile of this key period in English history. Possibly the strength of The Tudors is its 'inspired by' tag. This is exactly what this programme does: it entertains viewers, most of whom are well aware that poetic licence is in full effect, and then inspires them to go and look up the truth behind the story.
The same can be said of most programmes of this nature. A recent example was a surge in visitor numbers to a J.W Waterhouse Pre-Raphelite exhibition at the Royal Academy in London following the BBC's screening of Desperate Romantics. It seems that historical dramas - even those embellished for dramatic effect - have a role to play in education.