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Simon Schama: A History of Britain (Special Edition)

4.2 out of 5 stars 170 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

The definitive documentary of British history that launched Simon Schama’s award-winning television career. This epic 15-part series explores the vast history of the British Empire from 3000 BC to 1965. Simon Schama’s compelling storytelling skills breathe new life into the dramatic stories of lives and moments in Britain’s rich and colorful past.

Special Features

Now in widescreen with new DVD extras
Simon Schama's promo message
Interview taken from "The Rest Is History"
Television and the Trouble with History
Biography of Simon Schama
Tempus Fugit: exclusive behind-the-scenes interview
Original score
Simon Schama's John Donne special

Product Details

  • Actors: Various
  • Directors: Various
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Color, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 6
  • Rated:
    NR
    Not Rated
  • Studio: BBC Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: August 17, 2010
  • Run Time: 882 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (170 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B003K025Z0
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,670 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Simon Schama: A History of Britain (Special Edition)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
Schama's History of Britain is indeed a fine introduction to British History (or at least British History through English eyes). This documentary series is very well made and deserves all the 5 star ratings it get's at this site. However, no one seems to mention that this DVD set released by A&E/The History Channel is actually a cropped version, modified to fit a standard TV screen. This series was shot by the BBC in widescreen, as much to take advantage of the new widescreen medium as to project the panoramic grandeur of British history.

Both the Region 2 (UK & Europe) and Region 4 (Australia & New Zealand) versions are all in the original 1.85:1 widescreen (enhanced for widescreen TV). Only in America are we afforded the singular privilege of watching this show in a crappy Pan-&-Scan format courtesy of A&E/The History Channel.

The best buy right now would be to get the UK edition sold under the BBC's own label. Not only does it have 6 discs (1 disc of special features) compared to 5 in the American version, it is also much cheaper. You can get it through Amazon UK (at a 43% discount as of this date). Just make sure your system is able to play Region 2 discs and has native PAL capability. UK programs are recorded in PAL format rather than standard American NTSC.
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By A Customer on July 17, 2003
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I am neither a history scholar nor a serious history buff, but I suppose that I am an Anglophile (with an especial appreciation for Thomas More, Charles Dickens, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and, at the moment, Tony Blair). I rushed out to buy this set after hearing Simon Schama give a talk at Brigham Young University earlier this year. Schama is a very charismatic speaker, and I'd be surprised if he didn't end up selling hundreds of BYU students and faculty on his videos that day.
When I think of this series, a few of the words that come to mind are "beauty", "authenticity", and "solemnity". Schama's narration is spell-binding, and the cinematography (if that's the right word) is gorgeous. These are documentaries that it looks like took a lot of money to make, not because of the scale of historical re-enactments involved (which is relatively modest) but because of the overall quality of the product.
Since Schama can neither be classified as a hagiographer nor an iconoclast, I'd almost include the word "balanced" in my description of his work, but that word might suggest mediocrity or at least moderation, and there's nothing lukewarm about the positions Schama takes. I suppose that there are people out there who might find Schama's dramatic and strongly-opinionated style off-putting. There might even be people who find the British countryside ugly and Britain's historical treasures boring. To the rest of you, I give this set a strong recommendation. As one caveat: there are maybe 2 or 3 spots in the 15 hours of this series in which parental discretion might be advised.
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Format: DVD
This 2008 repackaging of 2001's "A History of Britain", featuring Simon Schama as author and presenter, is not the standard history of Great Britain. Schama is no slave to historical convention and his 15-episode retelling explores British history from a slightly different point of view.

Schama's famous BBC series traces British history from Roman Britain through the death of Winston Churchill in 1965. His focus is not timeline oriented; many prominent players in British history rate no more than passing mention. Even the iconic Churchill has to share the last episode with Eric Blair, better known by his literary name of George Orwell. Instead, Schama seeks to identify the slow, difficult steps by which Britain became a constitutional monarchy with individual freedoms and the rule of law. Those steps are found in Roman Britain, in the endless dynastic and religious wars that defined the powers of the monarchy and parliament, in the disaster of the Black Death, and in the long political and military struggles to build a united British nation and then a British empire.

The episodes feature important archeological sites, castles, ruined abbeys, and other locations where important events took place. We meet the prominent personalities of the narrative through pictures, paintings, sculptures, tomb representations, and, rarely, reenactment. Schama narrates in person, stalking through ruins, landscapes and museums while delivering his rather blunt colloquial commentary.

"A History of Britain" is not for everyone. The thematic presentation may be hard to follow for those not already familiar with British history. Those wedded to a romantic vision of a storied past may find Schama's blunt disection of power politics to be off-setting.
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There are a lot of history specials out there, but none so brilliantly conceived and realised at this series. I love history, especially the history of Britain, and so it was never dry, stale facts to me. But few bring it into focus, make it so accessible, and cut through the fat, so to speak, to give you a clean, logical, common sense approach to History of England 101 Crash Course as Simon Schama does. Each episode is well-written, fast paced and thoughtfully crafted, with marvellous location work to support his tromp through the corridors of time. He discards dates as the primary input and goes to the movers and shakers, makes you see the Kings and King makers with eyes that are fresh and vital.
After you travel this amazing journey through time, you will be sadden that history is not present this way in the schools and we all did not have Schama as our teacher!
Nirvana for British History lovers!
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