A History Of Britain: The Complete Collection – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

It’s important to note that Simon Schama calls his series A History of Britain and not The History of Britain, because the latter would imply an exhaustive examination of the sceptered isle, and this series seems to focus more on moments in its history than anything else. Each episode looks at a person, a movement, or a happening that Schama has cherry-picked as a defining moment in British history. This may disappointed those looking for a more detailed view of England, but I found it fascinating and ended up inspired to look into the corners of history that Schama chose to gloss over, which—now that I think about it—may have been his intention all along.

For history buffs like myself the history of Britain is enough to keep you interested, but what sets this apart from other documentaries is the host, Simon Schama. Schama has hosted several series like this, including the outstanding Power of Art, and he brings a very dry, very wry attitude that invigorates what for many could be considered dusty, boring old history. His commentary often shifts from matter-of-fact information to some truly funny sarcastic social commentary that not only makes you laugh, but adds another level of thought to whatever he’s talking about. At times Schama borders on the satirical, but somehow he always manages to keep a balance between a sincere reverence for the history of his country and an almost painful realization of the hypocrisy and cruelty of the people who had a hand in creating that history.

This series would be perfect except for odd mistake. For some reason disks four and five are backward, so that the disk labeled five has the episodes that should have been on disk four and vice-versa. It’s an odd mistake considering this DVD set was produced by the BBC and The History Channel, but it’s simply remedied by swapping the disks.

The series was presented in Fullscreen 1.33:1 aspect ratio and is of high quality, which isn’t surprising considering this was a BBC production. The same goes for the audio quality—Dolby Digital Stereo. My only complaint is that the sound level was inconsistent, and I had to almost constantly raise and lower the volume when it switched from Schama’s commentary to music or readings from historical documents or letters. However, that’s only a minor inconvenience.

Simon Schama Biography and Bibliography

Biography of King Edward the Confessor

Biography of Robert the Bruce

Biography of William Wallace

Biography of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots

Biography of Queen Elizabeth I

Biography of The Jacobites

Biography of King George III

Biography of Queen Victoria

Biography of William Gladstone

Biography of Sir Winston Churchill


Despite the sparse extra features and the odd mishap with disks four and five, it’s well worth your time to check out this series. Highly recommended.

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A&E Home Video presents A History of Britain: The Complete Collection. Running time: 15 hours. Rated NR. Released on DVD: July 29, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.

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