Review of “The Devil’s Whore”

by

On the whole I enjoyed Channel 4’s drama set during the English Revolution, That’s right, I said Revolution, not Civil War.

Television dramas set in this era – and popular histories  about it – skate over the fact that within the ranks Parliamentarians were groups such as the Diggers and the Levellers who demanded genuine social change. Both thought that land should be held in common and that aristocratic titles and land-ownership should be abolished. The levellers demanded universal male suffrage. To twentyfirst century eyes they were still somewhat reactionary in that female suffrage was not on their agenda but it should be noted that until World War I the franchise in Britain was more restricted than that demanded by the Levellers.

In short, they were revolutionaries demanding fundemental changes in their society. Not only were they not to the taste of  the Royalists, they scared the Parliamentarian leaders too. Oliver Cromwell sent the Leveller regiments to Ireland. Presumably for Cromwell this represented a win-win situation for Cromwell because whether the Levellers killed the Irish or the Irish killed the Levellers, he was rid of an enemy. To be frank, Oliver Cromwell betrayed the Revolution by ensuring there was no real change and establishing himself as a dictator (Lord Protector) with more powers than the king had had, just as 270 years later Joseph Stalin betrayed the Russian Revolution.

The revolutionaries played a major part in the plot of “The Devil’s Whore”  but the script-writers did not gloss over their reactionary aspects either – the misogyny mentioned above and the fact that they were still in thrall to fundementalist religion. Oliver Cromwell was shown for what he was too.

Regrettably, there were holes in the history too. One scene has Edward Sexby reviving the heroine after her hanging using mouth to mouth resuscitation which had not been invented in the 1650s. Their daughter was conceived on the night before Sexby sets off on a doomed attempt to assasinate Cromwell. It is clear that the attempt takes place when Cromwell is on his way to Parliament to install himself as Lord Protector but in the voice-over at the end Angelica says that Cromwell dies on the day their daughter is born. In fact Cromwell was Lord Protector for five years (1653 – 58) not nine months.

Anybody interested in the revolutionary nature of the political events of the 1640s and 1650s would do well to seek out the books “The English People and the English Revolution” and “1649: The Crisis of the English Revolution” by Brian Manning.

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