TV Highlights

David Starkey’s Magna Carta

BBC Two - 9pm

Who's in it?

Dr David Starkey reminded us that he’s more than just a media provocateur with this fascinating analysis of the Magna Carta and its cultural repercussions.

In a nutshell

In recent years, David Starkey has become the resident pantomime villain of shows like Newsnight and Question Time. He’s rolled into studios like some kind of eloquent Davros, to wield his robustly unfashionable opinions on things like immigration, terrorism and youth culture, while politicians and journalists shake their heads, clutch their foreheads and generally despair. Whether or not you agree with his opinions, there’s no denying his acidic, no-nonsense manner makes a refreshing change from the spin-doctored soundbites that come from many of his peers.

Plus, he’s one heck of a historian. This programme proved that, with Starkey’s unexpected approach to his subject material. The actual ins and outs of the Magna Carta – that document King John signed to limit the power of the monarch – were dealt with pretty swiftly. Starkey was more interested in the contract as a symbol of freedom throughout the ages, and on this he was enthralling as he took us to various points in time. From the English Civil War – when the Magna Carta was held up by parliament as a weapon against the monarchy – to the struggle for American independence, when it influenced the great Thomas Jefferson, Starkey showed how those ancient words have shaped philosophies and altered history.

What's the verdict?

Whether he was delineating the effects of the Magna Carta, or darkly pondering whether its message is being forgotten by today’s governments, Starkey was a perfect, bullish, bracing commentator on a momentous historical document.

Star rating: 4/5

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