Tales from the Green Valley (BBC, DVD)
This one-off TV series has a timeless quality to it that makes it as watchable now as when it was broadcast back in 2005.
Tales from the Green Valley is nominally within the reality TV category, but it is very much unlike anything else I've seen that fits under that heading. A team of historians and archaeologists live and work in an Elizabethan farm for a full calendar year, recreating the activities that the family would have engaged in.
This includes eating and drinking food from the period, raising crops in the old way and husbanding heritage livestock as close to those of the time as possible.
Each episode is set within a particular month, a really good approach given how much farming the land varies from season to season. This was brought out very strongly, with jobs chosen for each month according to the availability of materials required.
What struck me also was how every possible attempt was made in building or repairing to use local materials, in particular items such as bracken that would otherwise have been regarded as waste. The farmers of the time were thrifty, often of necessity, and the other striking fact is how incredibly hard they worked.
Seasonal specials such as the December episode, much of which is devoted to Christmas, were also informative about customs and festivals. The team has an old-fashioned Yule celebration with beef not turkey, as this had not yet arrived from the New World. Neither had potatoes, so all their carbs come from grains. The decorations were lovely and a visit from expert Ronald Hutton yielded many fascinating details about life at the time and specifically customs related to the Midwinter celebrations. This was probably my favourite episode.
Partly because the team were experts, and partly because they were joined in every episode by others who were specialists in jobs such as thatching, working with oxen, slaughtering and so on, this was a very informative show.
The style was quite gentle, with the team often saying that they were learning a great deal from doing things they had only read about before in period texts. The joy for the reader came in the way that they threw themselves into their tasks, the beauty of the valley and the good-natured relationships between the team.
Tales from the Green Valley has quite a relaxing feel to it, notwithstanding that they all work very hard, with a sociable conclusion to every episode when they all sit down at the polished kitchen table to eat and drink together. This gives them an opportunity to reflect upon the skills they'd learnt and their experiences during the day. It was a very cosy glimpse into a different world, lived by everyday farmers four hundred years ago within the UK. I loved it.
Many thanks for reading my review of Tales from the Green Valley. I'll be back on Monday. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested in reading my article about six costume dramas Netflix should produce here. Or you might like to take a look at my review of Gentleman Jack here.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi here.