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A History of Britain: The Complete Collection
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From the dawn of civilization to the 20th century, A HISTORY OF BRITAIN re-animates familiar tales and illuminates overlooked aspects of England's past. Written and hosted by historian Simon Schama (the bestselling author of Rembrandt's Eyes and The Embarrassment of Riches), this monumental The History Channel®/BBC co-production has been hailed by critics for its colorful--and controversial--approach, which discards timelines and tiresome lineages for a lively look at the personalities and cultures that infuse British history.
From India to Ireland, the Norman Invasion to the American Revolution, Schama spotlights the epic themes and towering figures that transformed an island "at the edge of the world" into the greatest empire on earth, examining the impact of this extraordinary heritage on the modern nation.
All 15 episodes of the landmark series are available on DVD for the first time in this extraordinary collector's set that belongs in the library of every history buff. Beginnings, Conquest, Dynasty, Nations, King Death, Burning Convictions, The Body of the Queen, The British Wars, Revolutions, Britannia Incorporated, The Wrong Empire, Forces of Nature, Victoria and her Sisters, Empire of Good Intentions, The Two Winstons.
What do you get when you combine the resources and ethos of the BBC with the literary panache of one of the world's best narrative historians? The answer is Simon Schama's History of Britain television series. In this well-written and thoughtfully crafted survey, Schama, the bestselling author of books on European cultural history such as The Embarrassment of Riches and Citizens, has managed to be both conventional and provocative. He tells the official version of Britain's story--Roman Britain, the Norman Conquest, the struggles of the Henrys and Richards, Elizabeth I, Scottish rebellions and the English Civil Wars, the American Revolution, the growth of the British Empire, Queen Victoria, the industrial age, and Winston Churchill. But while sticking to a script familiar to anyone who sat up and listened during history class, Schama brings it all alive with memorable prose and presence--Simon de Montfort's rebel parliament is described as inaugurating the "union between patriotism and insubordination"; with Henry VIII, Schama says, "you could practically smell the testosterone." Schama is also particularly enlightening on the symbolism of buildings, memorials, language, and ceremonies, and on the complex relations between England and its Celtic and Catholic neighbors. If history must have gloss, then let it be presented like this. --Miles Taylor
- Simon Schama biography/bibliography
- Biographies of key historical figures
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Top Customer Reviews
Like his later film on art, Schama's works are at first sight a delight just to watch, the filming is that good, atmospheric, often grand, moody; always appropriate-- as is the accompanying music. The music just moves with the film so well-- drawn out medieval bag pipes(?), looong oboe notes of impending doom, then up and down the scale into quite frightening bits-- time to run for the hills! Snippets of songs of many eras, dances, religious music. That beautiful high-note voice in the theme. Perfect. It all adds so much thickness to the film, and entertainment. I know about Black Death, have a dozen books on it. But during the episode on it, I was aghast and on edge, although I knew very well what happened next. But the music and film work were perfect. The dark, damp hills and bare trees; the man dying alone of plague, on dirty straw in a dirty dark hut, covered with buboes, spitting blood, while a welsh actor recited a contemporary poem about the ravages of plague. Sounds melodramatic, but it honestly isn't. We go back to Schama, the anchor, and move along in the tale.
Now, the filming: the film's makers, camera work, are geniuses. There is a lovely sense of place, quite solid, of Britain, beautiful and awful, and I've been there. The actors, or reenactors, are perfect (they don't speak on camera), and an array of British stars with wonderful voices read letters, quotes, documents and supposed speeches. ( You know, like the Paston letters and stuff )
Then, there's the narration, which is quite good. No talking down, just Schama sharing his ideas, views, knowledge. A few off-key phrases, but its very simon-schama-- he's always quite genuine and down-to-earth, and of course, the history is wonderful. And I like the History he chose to tell. At some point, he and his team had to pick and choose from 1000+ years. No long in-depth episode on Henry VIII and his wives ( one of my favorite subjects, and first I was upset ), but enough information about his reign, and the right information about it, to show where we (britain) were heading. I think Schama provides the right information throughout, so that this particular story of Britain, through show and tell, flows along. It feels right. It looks and sounds gorgeous. It taught me stuff. I re-watch it all, or certain parts, often. Because its fun and wonderful. Its flaw is the length: way too short. If only it had been twice as long...
Now, I've friends who just don't like it. They dislike Schama, his personal take, the lack of in-depth constitutional info. They don't like the atmospherics of the painting-like camera scenes, and the soundtrack. I've had people say that stuff takes away from the history and ask what's wrong with Schama, he jerks, lunges, jumps about. The wrong points were high-lighted, stuff left out, etc. You might think the same. Also, although its about 'Britain', people complain that Scotland and Ireland are not given enough play. That is pretty fair, and a few more episodes would have helped.
But me, I got pulled in.
I think he does a good job of describing the conflicts of the Industrial Age without slanting towards either capitalist or socialist favoritism. It must have been hard to do that, but the result is something much more balanced that you would expect coming out of the BBC and the fact that it is NOT biased helps to highlight the problems presented by both approaches. I am inspired to read Adam Smith and more George Orwell because of this part of the series.