Wednesday, May 24, 2006

C4's "The Real Da Vinci Code"

Channel 4's 2005 two-hour documentary The Real Da Vinci Code was repeated on the eve of the release of TDVC feature, coinciding with its own release on DVD. For those who have not seen it and are interested in obtaining the DVD (Amazon UK), below is a run-down of its content. (I don't know if a documentary synopsis requires a warning that programme "spoilers" follow, but the description does include the programme's own theories.) It is presented by Tony 'Baldrick' Robinson, but here instead of racing against time to dig up a threatened site as he does in his Channel 4 Time Team, Robinson here drives around Europe to find the truth of the grail-as-bloodline thesis, interviewing various authors and experts as he travels.
After a red-herring false-start visit to the specialist 'Institute' Brown claimed exists at King's College library near Westminster Abbey, Robinson heads for Hawkstone Park in Shropshire, where the 18C landowner, the antiquarian Thomas Wright, created an extravagant estate-wide “folly” – what we would now call a heritage theme park, which is what it has now become. There, Graham Philips (author of a series of books and a pioneer investigator in this field, but identified here only as author of The Search For The Grail) tells him the story how the grail was found from clues in the back of a painting found in the grotto. He shows him the tiny (eggcup-sized) 'Hawkstone Grail', a 1stC AD Roman scent jar collected by the antiquarian landowner Wright. Philips, who discovered it while researching his The Search For King Arthur, argues this is not the Last Supper goblet but the vessel in which Mary Magdalene collected drops of the blood of Christ.
Next, Arthurian historian Richard Barber is interviewed, to debunk this, saying Wright made no such claims in his lifetime. Then we’re off to Valencia Cathedral, where a 3rd C. stone goblet the Santa Caliz, claimed by the Church as the Grail, is quickly dismissed. Robinson then says (on the authority of Barber) the Grail in fact never existed, being a medieval invention - by Chretien deTroyes in the first-ever Grail tale, Le Conte de Graal. Cue clip from Monty Python & The Holy Grail, which Robinson tries to claim is relevant here. Suddenly we’re at the Forest Of Broceliande in Brittany, which Robinson doesn’t adequately explain was the ‘magical’ setting of scenes in the early Old French Arthurian Romances. (These were set ‘en Bretagne’ – meaning either in Britain or in Brittany, the ambiguous name deriving from the fact the French peninsula had been renamed as a British expatriate colony around 500 AD). Back to Richard Barber telling us Chretien promoted the idea the grail was the dish or cup of The Last Supper, but when he died in mid-story other continuers confused the issue with their descriptions - but, adds Robinson, it's all fiction anyway. Next we’re off to the Languedoc and HBHG country, to Montsegur castle on the French side of the Pyrenees, where there are some cave paintings (the significance of these is never explained). A Cathar historian (and QC) debunks the idea the sect held any secrets or venerated Mary Magdalene.The region was also a Knight Templar centre, and next the Templars rather than Cathars are suggested as guardians of the grail secret (as per HBHG).
From SE France the scene switches to Jerusalem, to hear a local archaeologist deny the Templars could have dug down so far into the Temple rock on the First Crusade (to recover bloodline-related documents). "A Templar Historian" says they were fighting men who got rich by sponsorship and then by establishing a banking system (not by finding treasures in the Temple Mount). She says the Templars were not heretics, only admitted this where tortured, and the Pope later dismissed his inquisitors. Rosslyn Chapel is next, where he thinks the Grail might be held. Andrew Sinclair, author of various books in the field, is interviewed regarding his recent work The Secret Scroll. The Chapel caretaker refuses to let Robinson dig up the floor with a mechanical digger, Time Team style. (Sinclair had in fact already tried to excavate the crypt, using an endoscopy-style probe.)
Then it’s back to SE France, to the town of Rennes-le-Chateau, where we see the church where the local priest allegedly discovered the parchments holding the bloodline secret. We head up to Paris to examine photocopies of the typewritten ‘Dossiers Secrets’ that HBHG made (in)famous, and see clips of Henry Lincoln’s filmed 1970s interview with Pierre Plantard claiming the Priory of Sion is real and guards a secret, not a treasure. His debunker Jean-Luc Chaumeil appears next to show a signed confession the parchments were forgeries, and were in fact an exercise in authority-mocking surrealism. Finally, we go to Milan, to see Leonardo’s painting The Last Supper to argue whether that really is meant to be a woman on Jesus’s right hand. In conclusion, Robinson summarises what he concludes is the 'true’ secret of TDVC, which I won't spoil here....