I want to see a documentary about the Middle Ages in which all the recreators are swans now

Indignant conservatives who insist on “accuracy” in television shows make me laugh. Apparently, the BBC has some show about Margaret of Anjou in which the title character is played by Sophie Okonedo, who is of Nigerian ancestry. Some people can’t get past the skin color to see the role the actor is playing.


You know, the BBC doesn’t have a time machine in order to pull in the original Margaret of Anjou to play the role, so anyone they can bring in is going to look different than the real person. If they had a white person playing her, would they pick over the shape of her nose, if it wasn’t identical? Nigel Farage is white, would he have been a better choice as an actor?

But here’s something even funnier: a medieval historian who wrote a thesis on the manuscript Mr Wood cited as the authority on how Margaret ought to look weighed in.

Hi @CllrChrisWood that’s a lovely medieval image you have there. It’s from a manuscript that claims M of Anjou was descended from a swan

I must insist on true historical accuracy in all future documentaries, and apparently a significant fraction of British royalty must be portrayed as part bird.

Also as part French. Margaret of Anjou was born in France (well, Lorraine), and was of the French house of Anjou-Valois. A UKIPper defending the accuracy of a television show is going to have to insist on hiring French actors, I guess.


  1. lucifersbike says

    This is the fatal flaw with democracy. Stupid people get to vote for stupid people.

  2. Athywren - not the moon you're looking for says

    I do hope he makes similar comments about every time white actors portray historical people of colour?
    I think that was the Hollow Crown series, which was less about Margaret of Anjou, and more just the historical plays of Shakespeare, which also happened to involve her. I should take the time to actually watch them….

  3. Zeppelin says

    Now I don’t know much about medieval medieval book art, but typically in manuscripts of that style I’ve seen everyone looks identical except for their clothes. But I expect Mr. Chris Wood has graciously allowed the BBC that much license in order to not strain their special effects budget overmuch.

  4. Rob Grigjanis says

    Okonedo could play anyone and I’d watch, even if she decided to waste her talents as Doctor Who or Captain Kirk, or in any of those vapid superhero flicks. Or reading a phone book. Brilliant actor. Also gorgeous.

    On a chat show, she was asked what inspired her to become an actor. Seems she was watching a variety show on telly when she was about six or seven. One of the acts was a scene from the musical Annie, and she noticed that one of the kids was black. “So, I could do that!” she thought. Anyway, thanks kid, whoever you are.

  5. cartomancer says

    She’s not right for the role! She’s FEMALE for goodness’ sake! It’s based on a Shakespeare play, so they should have used a male actor. Honestly, all these actual women coming in and trying to steal the jobs of actors who play women. It’s not right. Where would they put the two half-coconuts for starters?

    I nominate Idris Elba. He’d be a much better Margaret of Anjou!

  6. parrothead says

    @4 Rob

    Okonedo could play anyone and I’d watch, even if she decided to waste her talents as Doctor Who…

    I don’t think you’re a very nice person. My inner Whovian is offended.


  7. Becca Stareyes says

    Oh, goodness, never show this person a production of Hamilton unless you want them to have a bad case of the vapors. Because how dare a production either choose actors regardless of their race, or make artistic decisions about casting that don’t fit the public’s ideal of ‘historical accuracy’*.

    * Which is different than historical accuracy, in that it is what people think they know about history. Like that Medieval Europe was in a hermetically sealed bubble and not part of trade networks that stretched across Asia to China and into Africa, and that travel was impossible, instead of merely a pain in the ass.

  8. lakitha tolbert says

    I’m getting a little tired of all these bigots railing about historical accuracy when not a one of them cares or knows anything about history as most of their arguments seem to consist of Black people not existing before 1964, There are even people using this partuicular type of argument to say Black people shouldnt exist in various fictional rip-offs of JRR Tolkien.

  9. Rob Grigjanis says

    BTW, Okonedo was on the chat show I saw to talk about her role as Elizabeth Proctor in a Broadway production of The Crucible. You know, the one set in the lilywhite 17th century Massachusetts Bay Colony. She was nominated for a Tony award for that.

    parrothead @7: Russell Davies and Steven Moffat offend my inner Whovian.

  10. chigau (違う) says

    They could have used a bit more make-up on Okonedo.
    It’s been “working” for Othello for a long time.

  11. curdle says

    Cartomancer, well, if you want to get really Shakespearean, idris Elba would be far too old..they had boys playing the female roles. Even John Boyega might be pushing it…

  12. brett says

    If we’re not going to care about verisimilitude unless it’s 100% accurate, then why bother with the medieval get-up? Just have them wear modern clothes while pretending to be 15th century aristocrats, like with a lot of shakespearean play presentations. It would definitely save money on costumes and set design.

  13. cartomancer says

    Though if anyone does want a song with lyrics from a medieval manuscript about a swan complaining about how black it is, I can heartily recommend Olim lacus colueram from the Songs of Beuren (set to music by Carl Orff in the mid 20th century)…

  14. birgerjohansson says

    In “The Name of the Rose”, Sean Connery referred to an illuminated medieval manuscript that depicted the pope as a donkey. I will now insist all historical dramas depict the pope as a donkey.

  15. wzrd1 says

    Well, since the individual wants historical accuracy, shouldn’t she be speaking her lines in the variety of French utilized in that period?
    Any English, of course, would have to be Middle English.

    Heh, I’d love to see the steam coming from their ears if period language was used (I am conversant in Middle English). The plays titles entirely escape me, but I recall watching several that were exclusively done in Middle English. As I was friendly with the actors and actresses, I learned enough to become conversant.
    So, officially, I speak US English, UK English, bad English and Middle English. ;)

  16. tbp1 says

    I am an opera fan in a small way, and this sort of casting has been going on forever in opera, which is, of course, about as unrealistic an artistic medium as exists, anyway.

    My first Tosca had a black singer in the male lead, and an Asian as Tosca. Now that there are more Asian and Asian-American singers it’s not terribly unusual to see an Asian singer as Madame Butterfly or Turandot, but I’m sure it’s not the norm.

    A few years ago I saw an Otello with a black singer as Iago, and a white singer in blackface as Otello. Very mind bending.

  17. KG says

    apparently a significant fraction of British royalty must be portrayed as part bird. – PZM

    I think this is highly plausible: after all, they spend a lot of time flying around, and shitting on those beneath them.

  18. rietpluim says

    Now if that medieval painting of Margaret if Anjou is historically accurate, she may have had some serious physical problems. Where do we find an actor who looks like that?

  19. Bernard Bumner says

    …apparently a significant fraction of British royalty must be portrayed as part bird.

    Which is stupid, because if David Icke has taught us anything, it is that they are (interdimensional) lizards.

  20. Rob Grigjanis says

    tbp1 @17: I watched part of Madama Butterfly on PBS (Great Performances at the Met) on Sunday, with a Latvian as Cio-Cio-San. I’m just happy to see Latvians gainfully employed.

  21. Pierce R. Butler says

    birgerjohansson @ # 15: I will now insist all historical dramas depict the pope as a donkey.

    Why limit your demand to the historical and the dramatic?

  22. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    The movie version of The Lion in Winter had an Irishman as King Henry II, an American as Eleanor of Aquitaine, three Englishmen as their sons, and a Welshman as the king of France.

    When really all of those parts should have been French.

  23. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    cartomancer @6,

    Where would they put the two half-coconuts for starters?

    They’d play the part of the horses, of course.

  24. Rob Grigjanis says

    What a Maroon @23: O’Toole was raised in Leeds, and may have been born there. Anthony Hopkins (who played his son Richard) is Welsh.

  25. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    Rob Grigjanis,

    I realize that O’Toole is an ambiguous case; I was going with his surname as the tiebreaker (but in fairness I should note that his mother was Scottish).

    As for Hopkins, no excuse–needless to say he was the one I didn’t look up (ok, I also didn’t look up Kate Hepburn). Lesson learned (and soon to be forgotten, no doubt).

    But anyway, they’re still not French.

  26. enkidu says

    While I can understand arguments for both sides here, it’s no biggie fore me.

    What I would like to see is historical dramas that are only about coloured people, for various shades of coloured. Stories from the Empire of Mali or Great Zimbabwe, epics from Mongolia or the Gupta Empire.

  27. gijoel says

    If Alec Guiness can play an Arab and an Asian, then she can play a stuffy, old, white lady.

  28. robro says

    Wait a second! This program is based on Shakespeare’s “historical” plays, and this guy is getting tweaked about historical accuracy? That’s laughable. These plays are “historical” in the way a Hollywood movie is “based on true events” or reality TV is, well, real. It seems clear these plays were written to please the Tudor overlords, so historical accuracy was not nearly so important as the message that the Lancastrian line, while far from perfect, were ultimately the bravest, most honorable, and worthiest of kings, and so Henry VII, Henry VIII, and Elizabeth were the rightful heirs. Who could blame a troupe of poor players trying to make ends meet for going along with this story line? Besides, failing to do so could mean disaster for everyone in the company.

  29. blf says

    A few years ago I saw an Otello with a black singer as Iago, and a white singer in blackface as Otello. Very mind bending.

    Some years ago there was a famous stage production of Otello which has become known as the “photo-negative” version: A white actor (Patrick Stewart) played Otello (sans blackface), and all(?) the rest of the cast were black actors (sans whiteface).

    In Opera, the tradition of a white singer blackfacing-up for the role of Otello has been seriously challenged by some recent major productions (e.g., if my memory is correct-ish, the New York Met(?) did one last(?) year). As you might guess, some people object for reasons…

    Black Hamlet’s are so rare (as far as I know) that you’re almost more likely to find a living T rex, and female actors playing the role make that improbability an everyday occurrence (as far as I know).

  30. Rich Woods says

    Sophie Okonedo played Margaret of Anjou in Henry VI and Richard III. Why isn’t this UKIP gimboid also complaining about Benedict Cumberbatch not being hunchbacked? If the Beeb had the money to CGI his spine in, surely they could have CGI’d her colour away and straightened her hair…

    Gah. Sometimes* it’s best not to try to think like a Kipper. Bigots, fruitcakes and loons.

    *For every possible value of sometimes.

  31. benedic says

    “Nigel Farage is white, would he have been a better choice as an actor?”
    Let us be fair here.
    I should point out that we are living in an age in Britain of prestigiously gifted clowns ; Mr Johnson and Mr Farage vie to present the most risible face and actions to the public.

  32. victorbogado says

    Funny how there’s never complains about minority parts being cast by white people.

    Just saying that.

  33. Niki G says

    PZ: “Nigel Farage is white, would he have been a better choice”

    Nigel Farage is never the better choice. Unless it is to have some horrible, amusing accident. It could involve garden shears, a skunk, and a worn out sex toy, for example.

  34. birgerjohansson says

    Farage: -Is there a play that involves an evil clown/court jester?
    There is a Swedish play along those lines titled The Dwarf , I do not know if it has been translated to English (it might be a bit ableist, in those days dwarves were often recruited as jesters).
    – – – –
    If Margaret of Anjou was born in Lorraine (Lothringen) her first language would have been German. Hochdeutsch, to be specific. So she should have a German accent, for accuracy.

  35. Rob Grigjanis says

    birgerjohansson @35: Well, Henry son of William the Conqueror was possibly born in Yorkshire, but I doubt that Old English was his first (or second) language. Anyway, Lorraine had French and German speaking areas long before Margaret’s time, and I think she was born in a French part. And her dad was certainly French. So, most likely Middle French. Poy plus poy moins