BBC Fake or Fortune – A Review

It’s hard, for me at least, to find watchable series on TV nowadays. And so, stumbling across this series was a real find. I don’t know if I’m just very late to the party, and pretty much everyone who would be interested already knows the series, but I thought I’d flag it just in case not.

This series has a great mix of history, art, and social drama. As a PhD historian, at the end of long days of research, I usually can’t stomach a straightforwardly historical documentary, to be honest – it’s overkill. But history through the backdoor is great, as I wind-down, and this series gives history through an art-history-ish lens. I don’t know much about art, and have likes and dislikes but not greatly enlightened ones, so it’s both interesting and fantastic to learn more about history of art and how the contemporary art world & markets function. And, as a long-time ‘people watcher’, I love programmes with a bit of social drama too, and this programme definitely has it, as it features the tense up-and-down journey of the owner of an art work who hopes it is a genuine article (rather than a fake) and the idiosyncratic characters who occupy the world of art historians and critics.

The episode I just watched featured the widow (who was a very admirable character) of an art specialist who died young from a brain tumour and who had bought a painting he believed to be by C19th French artist Paul Delaroche (his painting of Lady Jane Grey at the scaffold is probably his most famous piece today). The painting was commissioned by the last French queen, Marie Amelie, of her patron saint, St Amelie, and was hung in her private chapel, and after the revolution was one of the personal items she managed to have brought to her in England. The trail of where the painting ended up runs dry in the C19th, however, and – to complicate matters – several copies were made, and the painting that stars in the episode is not quite like any of the known copies. So is it the genuine Delaroche painting, the most expensive and favourite of Queen Marie Amelie’s paintings, or not?

I often have trouble concentrating on TV episodes and films for long enough to finish them, but I had no problem this time, it was a gripping whodunnit.

So, if you live in the UK and like history and/or art, and a bit of suspense and mystery-solving, I’d recommend giving this series a go.


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