Top positive review
13 people found this helpful
on 27 September 2007
This is a rare item: a really good DVD about a city I know and love, a DVD that goes beyond mere tourist-friendly platitudes. Not only is the centre of London shown, for we also have the chance to see from the air Greenwich, Docklands, Hampton Court, and even Windsor Castle on a superbly-shot early misty morning.
Its title, whilst valid, should be amended to include "A History of the City's Built Environment", for the DVD is really about how London has been constructed and landscaped. However, what do we mean by the term "London"? This is where this DVD is a cut above the others, for it includes discussion about meanings and is content to display an unfashionable intellectual air. Of which other DVD are you aware that has its own select bibliography as an extra?
Neither is it afraid to have an opinion about developments. Although the series starts in Roman London, and much time is spent on historical styles and fashions through all ages, a good chunk - perhaps the last thirty minutes of the DVD - looks at 20th century developments. Much of the DVD focuses on three individuals, which the presenter believes above all others have made the greatest mark on the city: Nash, Wren, and Bazalgette.
When I say "this DVD", it should be explained that the driving force behind its appearance is its presenter, writer, composer, director and producer, Charles Guard. He is not someone I have previously seen in action, but he is clearly intelligent and engaging. He has interesting things to say, which again is a rare thing in this type of DVD.
Gripes? Well, yes, some, but these are really suggestions for improvements. More could be made of old maps and old paintings in explaining how London has spread from its Roman heart. It would have been nice to see the Roman wall superimposed on top of the aerial shot of the City. And maybe less time spent on explaining how sewage is treated downriver!
London is in perpetual flux, so the DVD is already dated. Shots of Trafalgar Square show traffic still flowing outside the National Gallery, and the marvellous (to me) Paternoster Square development north of Saint Paul's is still shown as being under construction. The demolition of the 1950s buildings opposite the eastern end of Saint Paul's along New Change is taking place as I speak. Nevertheless, this is no reason not to buy this wonderful DVD.
It even has a short ten-minute "making of" featurette that is fascinating in itself. As well as showing how the shots were technically filmed from a helicopter, Charles Guard also tells us how much he had to pay various institutions for interior shots. Most establishments charged in the hundreds of pounds, but the owners of Battersea Power Station asked for £2,000. Needless to say, he declined the offer. I urge you not to decline the offer of this ninety-minute plus fascinating documentary about how one of the world's greatest cities achieved that distinction.