Documentaries have come a long way from the old black and white films of the 1960’s – especially historical documentaries. This is not to rain on the parade of those old documentaries (I still consider War of the World to be one of the best WWII documentaries out there), but modern retellings tend to be more engaging, probably helped by superior technology and re-enactments. SBS’s miniseries Inquisition is well researched, and somewhat graphic, so those of weak hearts have been warned – for nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!
Inquisition deals with the torture and slaughter of groups from the Templars and Cathars to the Torquemada and the Marian ‘heretics’. The history is well researched – that cannot be doubted. A variety of different researchers and professors of this period of history, from experts in the history of torture to those versed in the theology of the various persecuted groups. (On a personal note I was confused by the entire of Europe basically being under the ‘Holy Roman Empire’ banner, since I am not an expert in Early Modern history I am willing to let it slide. I suspect it was used to simply highlight the reach of the Roman Catholic Church, from Portugal up to Britain and into Eastern Europe.)
That being said, the historians are more than just awkward academics sitting around in armchairs, surrounded by dusty books (although there are some of those). Plenty of them move around, vividly and excitedly describing the various scenes and events in the cities they occurred in. It is definitely something to see a wide variety of highly intellectual individuals lecturing about such a rich and dynamic period of history, with narration clearing up any complex jargon or concepts employed by the academics.
The cut scenes are also engaging. This isn’t a local news station’s reenactment of a crime – actors are accurately dressed up in rugged, grim, Early Modern European garb, battling and getting tortured in the name of historical inquiry. There really is something awful about the Inquisitors uniforms that sends shivers running down the spine, and the documentary doesn’t shy away from the more gruesome aspects of torture.
And for those less historically or geographically minded, there are plenty of maps to help locate some of the specific areas.
Inquisition does not take a favourable view of the Catholic Church in the Early Modern Period. If you believe that the Catholic Church cannot and has never done anything wrong and the Inquisitions are a result of slanderous lies by non-Catholics, this is probably something that will rustle your feathers. However, it does not cast judgement on current day Catholicism, just sticking to the excesses and exploits of the institutions of the Inquisitions. Although it would have been interesting to see more details on the long history (says my inner historian), overall it was a very engaging and informative documentary for both those interested in history and those interested in torture (and of course, both).