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4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 6 August 2007
A History of Britain by Simon Schama was a pivotal work in television history. It, almost single-handedly, began the `historical documentary revival' of recent years. The seemingly endless series of popular history programs, particularly on Channel 4, owe a debt to this series. However you feel about those programs though, watching A History of Britain makes it is perfectly clear why this revival has been so popular.

Schama and the BBC planned A History... to be a return to the epic, fairly, high budget documentary series such as `Civilization'. They hoped it would receive a reasonable share of the audience. It became a runaway success popularising British history like no series had before. Applications to read history at university went up dramatically; it became the BBC's highest selling factual series on DVD.

So why was it such a success? It has to be down to Schama. His knowledge and intelligence are obvious. His passion for his subjects leaps of the screen. The series has been criticised for its sidelining, even omission, of many events and periods such as the Hundred Years War and the Norman kings after William the Conqueror. These criticisms, while not unfounded, are fairly silly. If the series had been a list of major historical events it would not have been so successful, in fact it would have been nigh-on unwatchable. To make it entertaining as well as informative it needed to be subjectively edited; and Schama did an excellent job of it.
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on 15 January 2010
Simon Schama presents here a compellingly personal take on British History, full of colour and drama, bringing characters like Edward Longshanks vividly to life. He evokes with great immediacy the impact, for instance, of The White Ship Disaster on Henry Ist's court. The section on the Plague is truly disconcerting, as if it is still happening down the street...Though far from short on analysis, Schama's great strength is the immediacy of his presentation. The tone is at times admonishing and even confiding, as if he knows these figures personally. He makes no attempt to include all the kings, queens and battles, and doesn't aim to provide an exhaustive account of British history. I think he succeeds well, though, in finding threads of real significance through the two millennia covered, and brings it all to life with great panache. Various vital themes: the coming together of Norman and Saxon, the economic consequences of the plague and birth of the middle class, the Act of Union - the now questioned cornerstone of a once global empire -, the wonderful summing up of William of Orange, constitutional monarch, as 'chairman of the board' - it is all vividly presented and illuminates fascinatingly our own age.
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on 21 August 2010
Really interesting and a great overview - after all, Schama has had to condense Britain's history into 15 hours. Hence, it does not claim to be a complete account of the country's past... (If this is at all possible - I would say it is not). So viewers should not expect this! Liked how it did include the Irish, the Welsh and the Scots, as well women's history. Not just the history of the male poltical elite. Found some episodes at the beginning a little bit hard to follow because I had zero prior knowledge of the period and the episodes were dealing with substantial chunks of time... But nonetheless it gave me a flavour of the how things were and hopefully next time I watch I will take more of the details in! All in all, I would throughly recommend it, Schama is charming and eloquent!!
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on 28 March 2008
The only thing better and more informative than this superb piece of quality BBC tv is the enormous audio book version. Take the Victorian era - you get 12 hours of fascinating history read by Timothy West in place of a couple of hours of tv time, and the whole series takes forever to listen to! The audio series is vast, detailed and even more enlightening and shows Simon Schama's depth of knowledge is even more immense than the tv series indicates!
But the tv series is good to start with and takes you through the history of the isles in a way that schools don't appear to. This is so important because if you don't know why the UK is the way it is, and how it got like that, you can't know where it's going. A History Of Britain ought to be repeated once in a while, but until it is I say buy this and learn what made this country the way it is.
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on 19 April 2006
Bored with the normal tedium of endless dates and names that follow on endlessly? Want to know how and why Britain was formed? If so, get this set of DVD's or indeed the books which pre-empted the TV series. It's fantastic. Schama is able to conjour up the most vivid images as he goes from one far corner of the British main land to another. The starting point of the series at Scara Brae are something which had never really been told of in any great detail. He put's meat on to the bare bones of the story of Britain. At one point he mentions a name from everybodies school memory, the venerable Bede. But he goes on to tell how that one persons accounts have led us to what we know about the so-called dark ages. This is a must, but as i said at the begining, try reading the 3 volumes first, they are fantastic.
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on 24 December 2004
I have just finished watching the entire series of Simon Schama's History of Britain which I thought magnificent. Through a marvellously evocative use of language, images and sound the series illustrates many of the key figures, forces and themes of British history from ancient times up to the modern era. One of Schama's great gifts is to make remote people and events seem startlingly fresh and contemporary with his insightful commentary and analysis. This is surely one of the best series the BBC has ever produced in any genre and I found the cumulative effect to be deeply moving. If you love history, you will not regret buying this series which will afford many hours of education and entertainment. Congratulations Simon Schama and the BBC!
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on 29 January 2005
This is an astonishingly good series. The history and development of Britain through the lives of the power players, gentry, ordinary citizens, and peasants presented with great enthusiasm, intelligence, sensitivity and pathos by Simon Schama. His narrative and style of delivery always keeps your attention and is underpinned by one of the most effective and haunting music scores I have ever heard on TV.
This series should form the backbone of GCSE and A-level history in our schools. It certainly presents a more cogent and informative historical perspective of Britain in 15 hours than the years of 3rd rate history we get in schools.
I cannot recomment this DVD series highly enough.
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on 23 September 2003
Just as with the book of the same name, Schama's marvelously poetic, yet ultra-compact use of the English language means a lot of information is crammed into the narrative. Watching these DVDs is a delight, but you really need to concentrate to get the most out of them. If you are prepared to do this, then the programmes undoubtedly offer one of the quickest ways to master English history.
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on 2 August 2010
Given the compellingly low price for this 6 DVD box set, I could no longer resist adding it to my collection, and I'm very glad that I finally made the move! Given that Simon Schama complied this historical tour-de-force some ten years ago now, the programmes haven't dated in the least, as other major series have, such as Olivier's `Second World War'. Although this is a personal perspective on British history, from a self-confessed cultural "outsider", there is still much raw history here, which can be entertaining as well as informative. And the film settings are gorgeous too, all topped off by John Harle's stunning soundtrack. Given this set's extraordinarily good value, there is no longer any need to search for the edited repeats of these shows on TV; just switch on, lay back and let Schama's extraordinary achievement enrich your life. And there's a bonus disc too; why delay any longer!
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on 6 April 2014
I enjoyed the first 1-2 episodes, but now I've grown very tired of this. It feels more like a monotonous monologue now. Many times you just have Simon speaking (in a quite dreary tone, in my opinion) with - I suppose - atmospheric, non-specific blurry images and generic music. So to me it basically feels like an audio podcast a lot of the time. I wish they had spent a lot more effort to show the actual locations in order to give a more rich impression.

I also have issue with the content. It's just too broad and shallow for me. It often seems misleading and not worth my time. I've been watching this in parallel with the Monarchy series by David Starkey since they are very similar in focus. I've just been watching the section on Charles II, James II, and William of Orange. What I gathered from Simon Schama is that Charles and James were basically catholic which the people didn't like, and so they asked William of Orange to come over and be the king. It's like street gossip. So basically I learnt nothing and I'm also confused. David Starkey, on the other hand, spends about 2 hours on these people, actually goes to the locations where battles happened, digs out books from the coronation of James II, for example, and overall, gives a proper beginners' understanding of what this was all about. Simon Schama will fill you full of useless general trivia, leaving you confused and guessing about what actually happened, while David Starkey treats you like a competent adult, while passionately telling you most of the things that mattered. Simon Schama will also occasionally tell you some other very general-knowledge trivia which is outside the scope of what David Starkey's series was trying to do, but I don't think you're missing much and I recommend Starkey's series over this one.

Basically I think this documentary series is cheaply made, shallow, and confusing.
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