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. Schama's twitchy physical presence may be distracting for some viewers.
On the other hand, this telling of British history is engaging, realistic, and thought-provoking in getting at the heart of what it means to be British. The story is as much Scottish, Irish, and Welsh as English in coverage. Prominent personalities are shown in their full rounded humanity. The presention itself is polished work. "A History of Britain" is therefore highly recommended to fans of British history looking for a fresh angle.