This eight-episode documentary, originally made for Britain’s Channel 4, offers a jolly travelogue visit to one of London’s most famous attractions. Over the centuries, the Tower of London has morphed from a fortress to a palace to a prison to a tourist destination. Despite its various incarnations, it always managed to maintain a degree of off-kilter dignity even when the proceedings from within its walls were politically, morally or economically dubious.
All of the usual suspects are presentfor this Tower history tour: the little princes allegedly murdered at Richard III’s bequest, Anne Boleyn, the Crown Jewels, and the ravens. Some nifty jokers are also dealt into the pack: a pair of German POWs who were briefly incarcerated at the Tower during World War II (they return to their former cells and recall how bad the food was) and the trivia that the last two prisoners held at the Tower were a pair of brothers who went AWOL from their Army duties. Those brothers would have future run-ins with the law: they were the Krays.
Throughout the episodes, the centuries-old traditions are kept alive – no matter how daffy they may seem to contemporary viewers. With comic opera uniforms and traditions such as the Ceremony of the Keys, the daily operations of the Tower feel more like the frivolity of a Gilbert & Sullivan romp rather than the 21st century world. Only the sole complaint of a yeoman warder’s wife on the putrid residential quarters for the staff’s family offers a whiff of real air in this odd but intriguing corner of England.