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Fascinating despite the cod eccentricity
on 2 August 2011
The positives first: three of the six houses included in this series (Hawksmoor's glorious baroque Easton Neston, Flitcroft's paladian palace Wentworth Woodhouse and Lutyens fantastic Edwardian folly Marsh Court) are truly great works of architecture with fascinating histories whose stories are well told. The superb photography, the marvellous tours of magnificent rooms, the revelations of hidden treasures, are a delight. The extraordinary checkered histories of 3 great houses that have ended up beached in an alien uncomprehending culture which no longer knows how to use and enjoy such great masterpieces, is detailed rather movingly and makes one long to have the odd few million (or prhaps more like billion) to restore, refurbsh, bring back to life, love and reverence such marvellous and beautiful creations.
However one's enjoyment is hindered, cramped and squandered at almost every turn by Dan Cruickshank's willfully bizarre manner, as he enacts a sort of pantomime caricature of himself, contorting himself into strange spider like postures and exploding with irritating and often irrelevant ecstasies. He really needs a director who can curb his tendency to self parody and what seems like self promotion, and this is more or less successfully accomplished in the programmes on the three great houses detailed above (or perhaps the houses themselves are so powerful, magnificent and intrinsically fascinating that one can blot out the presenter' noise and just sit back and relish them).
Unfortunately, irritation takes over when wading through the hype heaped on the three much lesser houses included in the series (South Wraxall Manor, Kinross House and Clandeboye) which frankly are not interesting enough to rise above the Cruickshank manner for more than a fraction of each of their programme's length. At least South Wraxall and Kinross are distinguished buildings with fine histories, but I was frankly mystified by the programme on such a dull house as Clandeboye whose only rationale for inclusion seemed to be the fact that the current owner is an old friend of the presenter.
Learned, knowledgeable and admirably curious though he is, it is Dan Cruickshank's parodic and manic enthusiasm that makes this series at times a bit of an ordeal. Worth buying to get the chance of seeing beyond the portals of 3 very fine great houses and 2 distinguished minor mansions, but how one longs for a less dominant, less showy and shouty a frontman. Had the late much lamented Alec Clifton Taylor been alive he would have been the ideal and authoritative guide.