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Schama successfully gives lie to the idea that the history of Britain has been moderate and temperate, passing down the generations as stately as a galleon, taking on board sensible ideas but steering clear of sillier, revolutionary ones. Nonsense. Schama retells British history the way it was--as bloody, convulsive, precarious, hot-blooded and several times within an inch of haring off onto an entirely different course. Schama seems almost to delight in the goriness of history. Themes returned to repeatedly include the wars between the Scots and the Irish and the Catholic/Protestant conflicts--only the Irish question remains unresolved by the new millennium. As Britain becomes a constitutional monarchy, Schama talks less of Kings and Queens but of poets and idea-makers like Orwell. Still, with his pungent, direct manner and against an evocative visual and aural backdrop, Schama makes history seem as though it happened yesterday, the bloodstains not yet dry.
On the DVD: The Complete History of Britain extras are generously packaged on a separate disc and include the original score and a Simon Schama biography. There's an interesting "promotional message" to camera in which Schama explains the role of a cab driver, Wally, in inspiring the series, along with an interview with Mark Lawson in which Schama stresses the deliberate subjectivity of these programmes and an inaugural BBC History lecture in which he defends TV's ability to transpose history to camera. --David Stubbs
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