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Nicholas Casley (Plymouth, Devon, UK)

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Britain's Treasures From The Air DVD
Britain's Treasures From The Air DVD
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £11.14

4.0 out of 5 stars The National Trust in All Its Glory, 20 Jun. 2015
This 2012 DVD features over forty properties of the National Trust. So, despite the title, it does not feature Scotland. The DVD lasts fifty minutes and is split into eight segments: 1. beginnings; 2. landscape; 3. ancient sites; 4. castles; 5. villages; 6. parks and gardens; 7. houses; and 8. coastline.

The film is narrated by Richard Mervyn. His is no bland commentary as can sometimes be heard on DVDs of this nature; instead it is welcome for being quite intelligent. Unfortunately, for much of the time there is nothing on the screen and no narration to tell you exactly what the viewer is seeing. This is a shame because some passing shots are stunning – an often overused term, but in this case fully justified. However, once the opening shots are out of the way, the commentary gets down to specific sites and places.

In conclusion, this is certainly one of the better ‘Britain from Above’ DVDs that I have seen and can be highly recommended. Its shortcoming is that it does not last longer.

There are no extras.

Connex Express: Brighton to London Victoria DVD - Video 125
Connex Express: Brighton to London Victoria DVD - Video 125
Offered by becksdvds-co-uk
Price: £11.95

3.0 out of 5 stars Concrete Bracket Signals and Bi-Directional Working, 17 Jun. 2015
Released in 1998, the fifty-one mile driver’s eye view journey from Brighton to London Victoria takes forty-eight minutes on this DVD by Video 125. Filmed in 4:3 ratio on a bright sunny day, there are no aerial shots but we do get some from the lineside.

Alas, as usual with Video 125, there is no commentary-free option, and this DVD is particularly bad as the Fred DIneage’s script is virtually non-stop. As well as details of the line’s stations, we learn about such arcane issues as concrete bracket signals and bi-directional working.

For less than an hour's journey, this must be one of the least value-for-money discs from Video 125. Apart from trailers, the only extra is a speeded-up version that sees the journey from Brighton to London take just five minutes. But for better value, consider buying Video 125’s excellent ‘East Coastway & Marsh Link’ DVD, as this features a London Bridge to Brighton speed run of 2008 as an extra.

Vaughan Williams: Sinfonia Antartica, Serenade to Music
Vaughan Williams: Sinfonia Antartica, Serenade to Music
Offered by Liberty-Star
Price: £6.32

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Much to Praise, 17 Jun. 2015
Handley’s interpretation of Vaughan Williams’s ‘Serenade to Music’ with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic uses the choral version rather than soloists. It is one of the best in my collection: clear, disciplined, with attention drawn to the drama of the words. True, there are longueurs in the centre of the piece, but the beginning and ending are fresh and delightful.

The version of Vaughan Williams’s seventh symphony give here does without the narration. The sound is good, and the performance better than Boult. Handley is able to concentrate here on every bar to bring out its natural drama. The central ‘landscape’ is exceedingly well carried with a strong attention given to dynamics.

I find Handley’s interpretation of this composer’s symphonies not always convincing, but on this disc there is little to criticise and much to praise.

In Search of Lawrence of Arabia [DVD]
In Search of Lawrence of Arabia [DVD]
Offered by Special Interests
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars One Man's Endeavour to Test His Hero, 17 Jun. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This DVD is not a biography of TE Lawrence; rather its title should really be along the lines of ‘On the Trail of TE Lawrence’. It was filmed for Channel 4 in 1997 and is narrated by Tim Piggott-Smith.

This seventy-minute documentary (not sixty minutes as it states on the cover) seeks to test the veracity of some of Lawrence’s claims. Michael Asher, Arabist and biographer, calls Lawrence “the twentieth-century’s only crusader” and notes (like Churchill) that not only did Lawrence make history, he also wrote it too. So he and his wife (professional photographer and Arabist Mariantonietta Peru) test Lawrence’s assertion that he rode across Sinai from the newly-conquered town of Aqaba to El Shatt (opposite Suez) in just forty-nine hours. If this proves impossible, can Lawrence be trusted elsewhere in his writings?

But first, Asher tests another of Lawrence’s claims, namely that he rode from Wadi Rumm to Al Mudawara in less than two days, and that he blew up a bridge on the Hejaz railway. Along the way Asher argues with some Arab critics of Lawrence in his passionately-argued attempt to prove Lawrence did not lie.

Asher’s faith in his hero is sorely-tested, but here is not the place to reveal the results. There is an interesting epilogue in the film, and this might have been filmed later and thus explain the ten-minute discrepancy. At no point does the film fail to maintain the viewer’s interest, for in some respects the film is less about Lawrence than about one man’s endeavour to prevent the fall from grace of his hero. The disc contains lots of good archive photographs, but there are no extras.

Treasures; The Royal Collection
Treasures; The Royal Collection
by Jane Roberts
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Splendid Introduction, 13 Jun. 2015
‘Treasures: The Royal Collection’ was published in 2008. According to the details printed in this well-produced book, the text is abridged from another, Jane Roberts’s 2002 volume ‘Royal treasures: A Golden Jubilee Celebration’.

The book comprises a fifteen-page introduction by Hugh Roberts and ten thematic chapters. Roberts summarises the growth (as well as some of its losses) of what he calls “the last great European dynastic collection still to survive in royal ownership.”

The subsequent ten chapters review the following: 1. paintings and miniatures; 2. sculpture; 3. furniture; 4. ceramics; 5. gems and jewels; 6. arms and armour; 7. silver and gold; 8. Faberge; 9. books and manuscripts; and 10. drawings, watercolours, and pastels. Each chosen entry is illustrated and has its own detailed caption. Some of the items are illustrated in detail.

This then is a splendid introduction to the royal collection, demonstrating its breadth and depth, but of course illustrating only a miniscule amount of its extent.

Rebirth of a Palace: The Royal Court at Stirling Castle
Rebirth of a Palace: The Royal Court at Stirling Castle
by John Harrison
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Bringing the Past to Life, 13 Jun. 2015
This well-produced book from Historic Scotland tells the story of the reconstruction of the palace within Stirling Castle to represent the Scottish royal court in the time of James V. English Heritage has undertaken a similar exercise at Dover Castle for the reign of Henry II, and both are impressive interpretations that successfully convey the colour and freshness that medieval royal courts contained.

John Harrison’s book is full of marvellous illustrations comprising archive and modern photographs, reconstructions, paintings, plans, and engravings. I also enjoyed the endpapers. The book comprises seven chapters and an epilogue.

In the first chapter Harrison not only introduces the reader to the setting of Stirling Castle in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but also explains the impetus behind its transformation by Historic Scotland in what was called The Stirling Castle Palace Project. This “involved major research programmes, which have not only greatly enlarged our knowledge of the building itself, but have also enriched our understanding of Scotland’s past – and the nation’s place within European culture.”

Chapter two looks at the project’s baseline: whilst the presence of a military garrison at Stirling for over three hundred years caused some damage, it also preserved much of the castle-palace’s remains. Meanwhile, examinations of the historical accounts combined with archaeological excavations provided the basis for the reconstruction of the impressive interiors.

Chapter three gets down to some detail, examining the structures and symbolism of James V’s palace, “one of the finest Renaissance buildings in Britain”, especially the identities of the sculptures. In the following chapter Harrison tells the story of the recreation of the furnishings and fittings, with features on some of the artists involved – the weavers, embroiderers, painters, carpenters. These tells us what contemporary evidence was available to inform the reconstruction.

Costume and jewellery are the subjects of the fifth chapter, which addresses the personal dimensions of the clothes worn at court. The chapter includes six pages of participants modelling the reconstructed clothing. The sixth chapter is devoted to the unicorn tapestries, enabling the reader to compare the original faded tapestries housed at the Cloisters Museum in New York with the bright and colourful newly-made ones. The final chapter completes the review of the project by providing fascinating information on the famous carved Stirling heads.

All in all this is an impressive book, perhaps not as detailed as some would like, but detailed enough to enable the reader to have a better understanding of the impetus behind the project and its impressively successful results.

Star Trek [DVD]
Star Trek [DVD]
Dvd ~ Chris Pine
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £3.46

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Watch and Weep, 10 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Star Trek [DVD] (DVD)
It is extremely rare for me to give only one star to a DVD. One star means in my book that the film should never have been made. I can think of only one other occasion and even that was a film that was part of an otherwise good box set of Werner Herzog movies.

Surprisingly, this was one of those rare moments in visiting cinemas when the crowd applauded at the movie’s end. Me? I stormed out bitter and angry. My difficulty with this movie is implied in the commentary that accompanies the film on my DVD: the commentary is provided by the director, co-writers, and producer, in other words we hear from five men (no women), and the films to which they refer as comparisons are the Indiana Jones and Star Wars franchises. Abrams also did a ‘Mission Impossible’. None of these films feature in my film universe, because none of them appeal, so herein, for me, lies the major part of the problem. I feel the world of Star Trek has been hijacked and I will try to explain why below.

For sure, there are other issues. Space precludes me from dissecting the plot but any Star Trek story that relies on time travel is inherently unstable, but this one more than most. Simon Pegg as Scotty is simply pathetic (Scotty was a worrier, not a joker), as is much else: a seventeen-year-old Chekov at the helm of the new fleet’s starship anyone? Give us a break! And Kirk taking control with no authorisation? Yeah, of course. I’m sorry but every five minutes I just cringed at how unworthy this effort was compared to the original series and its subsequent spin-offs.

For me the stupidest moment in the film is the destruction of Vulcan. Six billion people die and a whole culture is destroyed. Do we stop to take account of this fact? Nope, let’s have another explosion, another example of derring-do, another preposterous fight with another preposterous outcome as our group of academy trainees save the universe! In the commentary we hear that the origins of the destruction of Vulcan was that, “If we’re gonna change things, let’s do it in a big way.” Well, I suppose you could say the same things about Afghanistan and Iraq.

There ARE some good ideas in this film. I enjoyed the young Kirk in Iowa; I liked the fact that Kirk and Spock initially meet in combative mode. In terms of the shoot, the decision to have lights in the camera and flares elsewhere mean that the film has a unique sheen and gives the impression of other things going on off-screen, adding to the sense of busy-ness and chaos all around. The SFX are faultless and I liked the occasional humour, such as the look on Kirk’s face when he accidentally handles Uhura in a compromising way.

But so much is so wrong. What we have is relentless action: action, action, all-American hero, action, crash, CGI, action, pow! After ten minutes I became numb to the unrelenting craziness. And at the heart is the conception of Kirk as warrior. When he states, “Either we’re going down or they are,” I winced at the darkness of his conception, the focus on revenge. I also envisioned George W Bush declaring ‘Mission Accomplished’.

Gene Roddenberry must have been turning in his grave at the lack of subtlety and the glorification of revenge and violence. Where is the original Star Trek vision? Where is the intellectual foundation? Ah, but such considerations are no longer relevant in the neoliberal economic order of the new Star Trek. Sure, Roddenberry liked some action, but it was always accompanied by a sense of wonder, humble awe, and humane mission. Instead, this film really is ‘Star Trek’ for the George W Bush era. For me, I still wallow in the glories of ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ made in the days of good old Jimmy Carter. Watch STTMP and weep!

Pubs of Plymouth Past and Present: The Harvest Home and a Hundred Others
Pubs of Plymouth Past and Present: The Harvest Home and a Hundred Others
by Chris Robinson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.50

4.0 out of 5 stars First Round, 10 Jun. 2015
Each entry in Chris Robinson’s review of a hundred Plymouth pubs appeared first in the Evening Herald newspaper. Robinson writes, “The book you have in your hands now is intended to be the first of several volumes binding the series together in batches of a hundred.” I have read the second volume but am unaware that there are any more.

Each entry has a page to itself. The entries comprise a photograph and a list of the licensees followed by a brief sketch of the pub’s history. Each entry also comes with a symbolic pint glass shown as either full, half-full, or less: I am not sure what these symbolise. Robinson includes his map of the city centre that combines both the pre-war and post-war streetscapes, but it should be pointed out that the geographical coverage of the book extends further out into the city’s suburbs.

Since publication of this first volume in 1996, the pub scene has already changed in Plymouth. Cities are living things. The Drake Circus roundabout is no longer with us (can we look forward to a volume entitled ‘Roundabout Plymouth: Past and Present’?) and those seeking the site of the Bedford Vaults “on the western side of C&A – inside the shop – a little way back from the main Eastlake Street entrance” will be left scratching their heads on more than one count. The Breton Arms is brought well up-to-date for 1996 when “it was restyled O’Neills”, but it’s had another name-change since then and is now (at the time of writing) again for sale. Many pubs that Robinson describes as still being open in 1996 have already shut.

This book, whilst restricted in its local historical parameters, is still of some use to those with an interest in a general history of Plymouth. Indeed, I thought I knew a lot about my native city, but Robinson still has the power to surprise. I did not know, for instance that where I regularly turn off North Hill to cycle up the path between the new Peninsular Medical School and the back of Sherwell Church there once stood Cole’s Dartmoor Hotel, as is plainly shown by the photograph in this book. You may find some surprises too.

Patrik, Age 1.5 [DVD]
Patrik, Age 1.5 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Gustaf Skarsgård
Offered by Gayfilmlover
Price: £5.49

4.0 out of 5 stars A Small Typographical Error, 10 Jun. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Patrik, Age 1.5 [DVD] (DVD)
This Swedish film from 2008 revolves around “a small typographical error”, but of course is much more than that, involving society’s attitudes, strained relationships, and even the pruning of roses. Goran and Sven are a gay couple eager to adopt, but the “small typographical error” means they end up with more of a handful than they expected.

The film is moving without being mawkish – but more importantly, it certainly is funny: I counted twelve occasions when I laughed. Well-acted (especially Tom Ljungman, who was seventeen playing fifteen), and well produced, this DVD will entertain. It’s just a shame there are no extras.

The Times Atlas of Britain
The Times Atlas of Britain
by Times atlases
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Tall Tome, 3 Jun. 2015
‘The Times Atlas of Britain’ is actually an atlas of the United Kingdom. This is a review of the 2010 edition. It is a large book with its own slipcase and is full of colour photographs as well as maps. The book opens with UK-wide maps that summarise themes such as climate, population, economy, travel, energy etc., but the bulk of the tome is a county by county concise descriptive analysis plus map. Also included alongside the main map of the county is a historical equivalent from ‘Bartholomew’s Atlas & Gazetteer’ of 1887.

Strictly, it is not ‘county-by-county’ but administrative area-by-administrative area. The problems this has caused for the book’s editors is explained, for we are told, “Some former districts … have become ‘unitary authorities’ …. Some counties have in local government terms ceased to exist … whilst other counties … have abolished all the districts and operate as a unitary authority … and yet others … retain the two-tier structure of a county council with districts beneath.” This has made a mess of local government in this country and would never be contemplated in countries such as Germany.

But in terms of this book, “Such an individualistic approach has created problems in compiling the text of this atlas.” Thus we are informed, for example, that “Southampton is a unitary authority on the south coast of England surrounding the city of Southampton and bordered by Hampshire.” Each ‘county’ (and I hereafter use this term as the one most appropriate) has its own section listing facts and figures followed by a brief summary narrative of its physical features and economic life. I spotted some typographical and/or factual errors in the text of those counties for which I have most knowledge.

But there is also much to learn, such as that Camberley in Surrey was an invented name to prevent confusion with its original name ‘Cambridge’. We also learn that it is ‘Dumbarton’ (the town) but ‘Dunbartonshire’ (the county). We even discover that Sean Connery’s first name is actually Thomas. (Each county has a list of famous sons and daughters.) Meanwhile, some entries beg questions. For instance, why is there a picture of Hampton Court Palace under the ‘Surrey’ section, and what prompted the name-change of the river Cam from it’s the river Granta?

The book adopts a sinuous tour of the country, starting in Cornwall and ending in Northern Ireland. It is not clear why this method was chosen rather than a strictly alphabetical approach. Also, whilst boundaries of some smaller unitary authorities are shown, those created by the disbandment of the metropolitan counties in 1986 are not: thus we have the boundary of Darlington depicted on the map of Durham but not that of Doncaster on the map of South Yorkshire.

But these are relatively minor matters when compared to the whole, which will prove a valuable addition to my book shelves – if I can find a shelf tall enough to take it!

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