Attila The Hun: Heroes And Villains, BBC1

by | Feb 13, 2008 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

An educational, well-acted, often thrilling drama that was hugely flawed because of the odious but unavoidable veneration of a cruel, barbaric, avaricious despot.

What was good about it?

• The tale of how Attila invaded and sacked large swathes of the Eastern and Western Roman Empires was narrated and depicted economically and inventively. The siege of Naisuss was depicted by an assault by Edeko (who also narrated the story) and his Skirs, one of the many tribes that made up the Hun horse, using siege towers to quell the volley of arrows from the city walls. Once Attila had breached the walls, the action then jumped to the bloody aftermath of a slaughtered city.

• The contrast between the ostensibly uncouth Huns and the more sophisticated machinations of the Roman diplomats was played out in the scenario during which Edeko was seemingly bribed by the Romans to facilitate the assassination of Attila by the unctuous Vigelus. But Edeko double-crossed the Romans, meaning that Vigelus was thwarted and it was implied he met his end by being impaled on a rather thick spike.

• Even with the factual errors the programme achieved its aim of illuminating the murky life of one of Europe’s most feared names, giving an insight into that magnetism that enabled him to mould together one of the most ruthless armies in the continent’s history. “I exist to be feared,” lamented Attila after his defeat by Rome. “Everything I have achieved has been based on fear.”

What was bad about it?

• The opening credits went: ‘This film depicts real events and real characters’, ‘It is based on accounts of writers of the time’, and ‘It has been written with the advice of modern historians’. Is the BBC now so cowed by the ‘scandal’ of faked TV coverage that each show will have a prologue pledging its spotless veracity?

• We’d rather the intro had said, ‘What you’re about to see is a load of old bollocks; but as it’s bollocks it’s probably a damn sight more entertaining than the dreary truth and we’ll hope it will inspire you to go and read about Attila in a big book in a library that scrupulously details his life instead of trying to squeeze it all into one hour before the even more fantastical tales of the BBC News at Ten O’Clock’.

• But there were factual inaccuracies all the same. It’s not recorded how Attila’s brother, and joint king, Bleda was killed. It’s rumoured that Attila murdered him, but on a hunting trip rather than at a debauched banquet. And this worries us that in 2150, all historical recreations on TV (or the contemporary equivalent) will be based on the gossip columns of Heat, The News of the World and The Daily Mirror.

• Attila the Hun was such an incorrigible slab of bearded malice that each time his armies mercilessly laid siege to some innocent city you hoped he would meet his demise. Every time he picked up a dagger whether it was when tribal chiefs who disagreed with him were returned to him by the genuflecting Romans or his brother Bleda was being a slothful, blubbery whale of complacency you knew it would end with their gruesome deaths.

• Even as the Huns charged the steadfast Roman lines at the Catalonian Fields, heroic music piped up to serenade Attila’s bloodthirsty exhortations. The most repellent trait of Attila was that there was no depth to his conquests, everything stemmed from a lust for gold and then more gold so you immediately decided that his true spiritual heirs are members of private equity firms, directors of companies bleeding Iraq dry with their extortionate reconstruction contracts, stockbrokers or Rupert Murdoch; the real scum of the Earth.

• We would like to have told you the names of the actors who impressively filled the roles of Attila, Edeko and the rest (we only recognised Michael Maloney as Vigelus) but sadly as soon as it ended the credits were sucked down the plughole by that idiotic desire to grasp at viewers like snakes strike at swarming bats (performed with the same naked lust that Attila had for gold). The credits were reduced to microscopic size in the corner of the screen while George Alagiah helpfully told us that, just like every other weekday for the past eight years, the BBC News at Ten O’Clock will be starting at 10 O’clock.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

13/02/2008

Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!

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