Talking Dutch: Welcome to the middle ages

Summary

The British are often rude about this country. They say it’s boring, or worse. British MEP Nigel Farage once described Belgium as a non-country, after he had described the country’s former prime minister as having the charisma of a wet dishrag.

Derek Blyth on the British

The British are often rude about this country. They say it’s boring, or worse. British MEP Nigel Farage once described Belgium as a non-country, after he had described the country’s former prime minister as having the charisma of a wet dishrag.

Well, the tables have finally turned. De Britten ontdekken Brugge – the British are discovering Bruges, a recent VTM news report announced. (Not strictly true. They’d already stumbled upon Bruges in the 11th century, and virtually rebuilt it in the 19th. But never mind.) The British are discovering Bruges again through the BBC historical drama The White Queen.

This 10-part series, which goes out on Sunday evenings, is based on a novel by Philippa Gregory set during the 15th-century Wars of the Roses. The plot is fiendishly complicated because every male is called Edward. Unless he is Henry. There are fabulous costumes, glittering interiors and the occasional non-medieval fashion accessory ( forsooth, my lady’s dress has a zip fastener).

In short, it is a very British costume drama. Yet almost every scene has been filmed in Flanders (and it’s partly funded by the Flanders Audiovisual Fund). When King Edward IV secretly meets Elizabeth Woodville for a night of passion, it happens in the medieval Waterhalle on the ramparts of Bruges. When Elizabeth is crowned, she rides down the Blinde Ezelstraat (Blind Donkey Street, or Coronation Street as the film crew renamed it).

In other scenes, the attentive viewer can spot Ghent’s Gravensteen, Knokke’s sandy beach and the cloth hall in Bruges (which normally has two fritkots parked outside).

So what, prithee, is wrong with England? Well, it seems that there is nowhere as pretty as Bruges. Alle acteurs zijn ongelooflijk enthousiast over de gebouwen in de stad en de sfeer die Brugge uitademt – all the actors were exceptionally impressed by the buildings in the town and the atmosphere in Bruges. They all agreed that you could never find such a beautiful location in Britain – zo’n prachtige locatie vind je niet in Groot- Brittannië.

It appears that Belgium takes more care of its historical monuments, so that old buildings look authentic and don’t have security cameras and phone masts poking out from the battlements.

So The White Queen is helping to prove to the British that this country is not boring. Whether it will ever sort out the Henrys from the Edwards remains to be seen.

The next episode of The White Queen is on BBC One on 21 July at 10.00. The entire series will be shown again on Flemish TV later in the year.

Welcome to the middle ages

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