Kenneth Clarke's eloquent and deeply personal documentary series exploring the cultural heritage of the western world, from the collapse of the Roman Empire until the birth of modernism, was groundbreaking television when first broadcast by the BBC in 1969. With its use of exotic locations, and its engaging presenter with his idiosyncratic style, it influenced much of what was to follow. Progressing from the cultural effects of feudalism in medieval Europe to the birth of the Renaissance in fifteenth-century Florence, from revolutionary politics in France after 1789 to the growth of materialism in artistic and scientific discourse, Clarke did not just examine 'art', but wanted to reveal the spiritual and humanistic motives behind its creation. Includes all 13 episodes.
A major piece of television documentary making that’s been allowed out of the archives, Civilisation: A Personal View
was first screened on BBC2 in 1969, having been in production for several years beforehand. Its ambition was clear from the off, giving that it was aiming to chart the history of Western philosophy, culture and art since not far off the dawn of time. What’s most remarkable, though, is just how well it did with the task in hand.
Civilisation: A Personal View was presented by the late Kenneth Clark, an art historian, and the programme was commissioned under the watch of David Attenborough. And across 13 episodes, it’s an engrossing piece of work, that remains as relevant and interesting today. Inevitably, the format is nowhere near as groundbreaking as it once was, which is unsurprising given that it established a template that many chose to follow. But the breadth and depth of the content, distilled with real skill by Clark, is what made it one of the most talked about, and popular, television series of its day.
And how lovely it is that the entire show has been remastered in high definition. Originally for the rebroadcasting of the entire series on BBC Four, Civilisation: A Personal View has now found a home it never expected to have on Blu-ray. The added clarity, appreciating the age of the source material, is a real and unexpected bonus, and Civilisation: A Personal View may just prove to be one of the most interesting and vital Blu-ray releases of the year. An astonishing piece of work. --Jon Foster
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