I’m more of a cheese eater than beefeater.

Built around 900 years ago, the Tower of London was at first a royal palace, then it became a jail, and then it became a tourist site. Inside its walls are a microcosm of English history, with seemingly endless stories of adventures, romances, tortures, escapes, and more from within its giant stone walls. This made-for-PBS documentary covers the basics of some of what is inside the tower, and why it is so famous.

Secrets of the Tower of London assumes viewers already have some familiarity with the tower. There’s no basic “walkthrough” of the site at the beginning, so we can get our bearings. For example, the tower is not a single giant spire, but a palace surrounded by an inner wall and then an outer wall. The doc skips this basic info and instead begins right away with discussion of the menagerie, a brief time when part of the tower was converted into a zoo during the Victorian age. Someone who knows nothing about the tower will blink and say, “Wait, what?”

Fortunately, after that baffling beginning, the documentary moves on to more well-known topics, including a detailed look at Anne Boleyn’s stay and execution at the tower. Other subjects include the tower’s famous collection of ravens, the armory, the crown jewels kept inside the tower’s jewel house, and the guards/tour guides known as Beefeaters. Extended sites include a visit to the adjacent Tower Hill, and a look inside the iconic Tower Bridge right next door.

Secrets of the Tower of London‘s most interesting moments are when the cameras get to have a peek at areas of the tower the tourists don’t get to see. This includes restoration work being done in the same manner as well the tower was built, some ancient paintings discovered behind one wall, the giant mechanisms that raise and lower Tower Bridge, and the holiest of holies—a visit inside the Beefeaters’ private pub, which itself is lined with priceless historic treasures.

Picture and audio are solid, widescreen with 2.0 stereo sound. No extras.

At only an hour, there’s no way Secrets of the Tower of London can cover everything, but they nonetheless pack a ton of info. Consider it a “refresher course” for history and travel fans.

The Verdict

Not guilty, guv’nor.

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