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Western Animation / Castle

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Castle is a 1983 PBS documentary with fully animated docudrama sequences. It is the first adaptation of British-American architect David Macaulay's books on ancient engineering, adapted from his award-winning 1977 book, and set the standard for adaptations to come.

The film, produced by Unicorn Productions in association with WTVS Detroit, chronicles the construction of the fictional castle of Aberwyvern under the supervision of its owner, Lord Kevin le Strange (voice of Ronald Baddiley), and master carpenter James of Babbington (voice of BRIAN BLESSED), and the extremes the Welsh, led by Prince Dafydd (voice of Ellis Jones), went to, ultimately to no avail, in their attempt to thwart the English invasion of their territory. In the live-action wrap-around sequences, Macaulay and Welsh actress Sarah Bullen explore the real-life castles that served as Macaulay's inspiration for the setting of his story. A standalone version featuring only the animated sequences was also made available.


Both the animated and live-action sequences go out of their way to show how castles functioned defensively, especially in times of war. This would eventually be followed by Cathedral in 1986, Pyramid in 1988, Roman City in 1994, and Mill Times in 2002.

Original production funding was provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, and the Jacob and Charlotte Lehrman Foundation. Additional funding for the 1994 rebroadcast was provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and public television viewers.

Useless trivia: this premiered on the same week as Vietnam: A Television History, and its initial broadcast was followed by the premiere of the second episode of the same. Also, its 1994 rebroadcast was the leadoff program of PBS's primetime schedule for May 10, 1994, with Frontline special "Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo" and 1992 half-hour evergreen program USS Wisconsin: The Last Battleship following.


Here be examples of these English and Welsh tropes:

  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: David Macaulay mentions boiling water, burning coal, stones, and "possibly even a dead cat" as being among the weapons dropped onto invading Welsh soldiers death-from-above-style through aptly-named "murder holes".
  • The Chessmaster: Lord Kevin and Master James prove to be tactical experts when it comes to building castles. If a live-action wrap-around sequence where David Macaulay and Sarah Bullen are playing chess is anything to go by, Lord Kevin might have even been this literally, the implication being that he played chess with his king as they discussed defense strategies to deploy against the Welsh.
  • Death Course:
    • The live-action sequences include the hosts playing through a scenario of what would happen if the attackers managed to get through the front entrance, they would then have to get through a hall of barricaded doors surrounded by arrow slits on the sides and murder holes on top, designed to be as unsurvivable as possible.
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    • Another live-action section examines a real and even better designed castle, with an asymmetrical front area immediately behind the main front gate which requires any enemy to take a diagonal direction to the next inner entrance, exposing them in an open area that can be thoroughly covered by defensive fire.
  • Didn't Think This Through: The Welsh tunnel burning plan was dependent upon the towers being weak enough to collapse under a caved-in tunnel. They didn't anticipate the possibility that the walls of the tower would be so thick as to withstand even that tactic.
  • Jumped at the Call: When Lord Kevin drafts thousands of workers to help build Castle Aberwyvern, one who has no problem with leaving his hometown for the project is a blacksmith from Chester named Andrew, who understands that Chester has more than enough blacksmiths to serve it and sees an opportunity, becoming an inaugural master of Aberwyvern's smithing guild and eventually moving there as one of its first permanent residents.
  • Kill It with Fire:
    • If a Welsh soldier tried to go through Castle Aberwyvern's gates, they were met with fiery death from above courtesy of the murder holes.
    • The Welsh themselves attempted this tactic by digging a tunnel under one of the towers and then setting it alight. It doesn't work anywhere near as well as they thought it would.
  • Kill It with Water: Defenders also used boiling water, among other things, to keep the Welsh out.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: When Prince Dafydd's tunnel burning plan fails and he learns that reinforcements from King Edward are coming in, he knows he's screwed if he presses on, and so orders his troops to fall back.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted. One of the animated sequences clearly depicts someone relieving himself in the castle.
  • Occupiers Out of Our Country: Prince Dafydd's motivation for storming Castle Aberwyvern.
  • Old Dog: Lord Kevin is initially set on building his castle the way it was done in King Henry's time, but Master James is able to impress him with innovations developed beyond Europe.
  • Storming the Castle: The program shows in vivid terms just how tough storming a well designed, built and supplied castle could be in medieval times with defenses upon defenses in place to discourage it.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Prince Dafydd is the leader of the Welsh resistance against the English, storming their castles in an attempt to drive them away from their lands.