Did we like it?
This was an often fascinating start to this new series presented by explorer Paul Rose.
What was good about it?
• A BBC documentary done properly – interesting, enthusiastic, funny in parts, shocking in others and absolutely no overwrought music.
• This week, the story was about Ferdinand Magellan who is seen as the first man to circumnavigate the globe… even though he actually died in the Philippines and the journey was completed by Juan Sebastien El Carno. It was a good old-fashioned adventure story of the high seas told with superb enthusiasm by Paul Rose.
• The sheer weight of interesting facts about Magellan’s journey: That he was only gambling that there would be a route through South America through to the Spice Islands, but he kept his crew in the dark about his hunch; That it was the first time Magellan had even captained a ship; that at the time cloves were more valuable than gold; on the way back, many crew members died of scurvy – they had not realised that they were sitting on tons of cloves that would have saved their lives.
• Rose’s explanation of St Elmo’s Fire, which the sailors back in 1519 attributed to divine intervention. Rose’s explanations were always agreeably laced with gravitas because he has undertaken many dangerous journeys himself.
• Rose told the story from aboard a replica of the Victoria ship, the only one of the fleet of five that made it back to Spain, which was repeating Magellan’s journey. This worked very well and was the perfect place from which to narrate the story and demonstrate the hard work that went into crewing a ship like that. Combined with some effective and understated re-creations, the film was impressively free of filler.
What was bad about it?
• The story of what happened once Magellan made it to the Philippines: he introduced Christianity and invaded a neighbouring island to show his loyalty to the chief of the first island. He miscalculated, however, and ended up being beaten to death by the islanders. After the super-human effort to get as far as he did to discover an alternative route through to the Spice Islands through Spanish waters, it seemed a particularly careless and ignominious way to die.
• When the courageous El Carno returned with a mere fraction of men after three years and laden with cloves, he was not even made wealthy. The King of Spain sold the booty to pay for the vanished fleet and El Carno died on his next expedition to the Spice Islands.