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She-Wolves: England’s Early Queens

Release Year:    2011
Studio:    Acorn Media
Format:    Colour; NTSC; Widescreen
Rated:    Not Rated
# of Discs/Episodes:    1 / 3
Running Time:    185 minutes
DVD Release Date:    February 5, 2013
Creator:    Helen Castor
Screenwriter:    Helen Castor
Director:    Lucy Swingler
Actor:    Helen Castor
DVD Features:    SDH subtitles
E:Top Picks Rating:    8/10

Acorn Media Write-up:
The Medieval and Tudor World was built for and ruled by men. Kings were warriors who earned power through blood spilled on the battlefield. Women who sought to rule in their own right were viewed with horror and vilified as “she-wolves”. Yet beginning 800 years ago with Matilda – daughter of Henry I, granddaughter of William the Conqueror – a handful of extraordinary women decided they would wear England’s crown. They were thwarted, betrayed, imprisoned, and condemned until the day came when England had no choice but to name a female monarch.

Hosted and based on the book by Dr. Helen Castor, “an accomplished and elegant historian” (The New York Times), and filmed on location in England and France, this captivating BBC series explores the lives of seven English queens who challenged male power, the fierce and fiery reactions they provoked, and whether, in fact, much has changed.

BONUS FEATURES: 16-page viewer’s guide with articles about the first she-wolf, the makings of a “she-wolf,” women in common life, powerful women in history, and matriarchal societies; Biography of Helen Castor; Plus discussion questions at athenalearning.com

Jon Ted Wynne Review:
Athena Learning, the educational subsidiary of Acorn Media, continues to select and distribute in North America thoughtful, interesting and important documentaries on historical themes. SHE-WOLVES: ENGLAND’S EARLY QUEENS continues this pattern and the results, though flawed, are very interesting.

How much of the lives of the first seven queens of England will be of general interest is questionable, but to those inclined to seek out historical biography, there is much here to commend.

The first queen in question, Mathilda, granddaughter of William the Conqueror, is probably the least interesting from a contemporary viewpoint. I wonder if this is simply because she is the least known. It is arguable that one’s interest level in the various queens of the series will be impacted by how much is already known going in. For example, the better-known queens – Elizabeth I in particular – already have an audience. SHE-WOLVES builds on this familiarity and adds to the historical facts. The program is at its best when it adds to the viewers’ interest rather than tries to create interest in people previously unheard of.

This is in part because there is less in the historical records about some of the earlier queens. This leads to one of the program’s flaws. When host Dr. Helen Castor indicates that virtually nothing is known about such and such an event, and then goes on to say that such and such a thing happened in such and such a way – and the queen felt very passionately about it! – it’s hard not to wonder if enthusiastic conjecture hasn’t overridden historical scholarship. This and some annoying technical glitches (for example, why does the narrator’s volume drop so significantly when Dr. Castor is not on screen?) prevent SHE-WOLVES: ENGLAND’S EARLY QUEENS from being among the best of Athena’s product to date, but it is still pretty good.

Having indicated that the appeal of this program might be limited, it will no doubt be of tremendous appeal to those who do lean toward the subject matter and is certainly a unique tool for educational purposes. By no means a compulsory addition to one’s library of the monarchy, SHE-WOLVES still has its (specialized) place.

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