Scenes from an Execution (1990): Howard Barker

Scenes from an Execution: Howard Barker

★★★

(National Theatre, London, until 9 December 2012)

Venice, 1571. The Serenissima, at the head of the Holy League, has defeated the Ottoman Empire in the Battle of Lepanto and the great Republic turns to the artist Galactia (Fiona Shaw) to immortalise the victory in an immense canvas. They are taking a risk: outspoken, liberal Galactia is no state catspaw. Sickened by the slaughter at Lepanto, she decides to turn the triumphalist canvas into a seething denunciation of war: a tumult of flesh and violence, blood and severed limbs. This will be no vision of Christian victory, but an accurate representation of a battle whose rate of slaughter wouldn’t be equalled until the First World War.

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The Devil’s Whore (2008)

The Devil's Whore

★★★★½

First screened in 2008, this four-part TV series shows us the English Civil War through the eyes of a woman. Subtitled, in a teasing nod to the Newgate scandal-sheets, A True Account of the Life and Times of Angelica Fanshawe, it begins in the early 1640s.  Angelica (Andrea Riseborough) is goddaughter to Charles I, blessed with wealth, position and security: the first episode opens on the eve of war, with her wedding to her cousin Harry, her childhood sweetheart.  As hostilities between King and Parliament deepen, her married life comes to an abrupt close and, banished from the court, Angelica finds herself in growing sympathy with those who seek to make a better world.  The series follows her as she struggles to defend her own well-being and her family home, as the sands of political fortune shift under her feet.

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