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4.5 out of 5 stars34
4.5 out of 5 stars
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This series will delight fans of Dan Cruickshank - but if you don't enjoy his particular style of presentation then even a keen interest in the heritage and history of outstanding British buildings might not be enough to tempt you to sit through six hours of his whispering, arm-waving wonderment.

I've always enjoyed Dan's enthusiastic manner and his habit of physically fondling architectural features while huskily waxing historical, so this six-part BBC series has been a joy for me to watch. Each hour-long programme looks in depth at a significant country house. Dan goes beyond just explaining the architecture; you get a whole family history and the historical context of each building in its location and time period. So effectively the series uses the device of the house to illustrate key points in British history, and show how `the big 'ouse' was important to our society in different ways at different times.
And on top of that there's some simply stunning behind-the-scenes photography of great houses in beautiful grounds. Wentworth Woodhouse, for instance, is unbelievably fabulous. Seeing it was like discovering the Palace of Versailles in Yorkshire. Easton Neston (the home of Hesketh motorcycles, trivia fans) is a gem which was created in part by Christopher Wren. Wraxall Manor dates back half a millennia - and boasts a ghost of Sir Walter Raleigh!
Local historians and other experts add depth and variety to the programmes, and the filming includes off-site excepts where Dan does background research, or compares each building to its contemporaries. So although there IS a lot of Dan, you do get a good mix during the 60 minutes.

Then there's the sad part: almost all of these fabulous buildings have fallen on hard times and some are in desperate need of repair. The postwar photos of Wentworth Woodhouse with open-cast mines running right up to the building's doorstep made my blood boil. But it's right that these programmes don't shirk from showing the down side, and they help to highlight just how close we come to losing some of our architectural heritage forever.
Thoroughly enjoyable.
8/10
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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.
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A good idea from the BBC documentary production team: to look at six country houses not open to the public, examining the architecture and history of the houses and the lives of the people who have lived in them.

The series is chronological, starting with the Tudor manor house South Wroxall and proceeding successively through the seventeenth century Kinross, the eighteenth century Easton Neston and Wentworth Woodhouse and the nineteenth century Clandeboye, before finishing with the Edwardian Marshcourt created by Lutyens. The balance between architecture and history varies from programme to programme because there is more to see in some houses than others. For example, there is a lot of architecture on view at South Wroxall and Marshcourt but less so at Kinrosss, Wentworth Woodhouse and Clandeboye. Wentworth Woodhouse is in disrepair and hence we see lots of shots of the still intact Marble Hall and the outside façade in different seasons, but relatively little else except doors that do not fit and piles of plaster where ceilings are collapsing. Clandeboye is a relatively modest house with little to see, and Dan Cruickshank tells us of the many times its owner Lord Dufferin tried to enlarge and enhance it but could never afford to do so. Instead almost the entire programme was devoted to the life of Lord Dufferin, who started as a favourite at the court of Queen Victoria and became a very successful diplomat, including being Viceroy of India. However, all six programmes contain a lot of interesting material on the previous owners of the houses, ranging from the Long family (allegedly cattle thieves) who built South Wroxall to the stockjobber Herbert Johnson who commissioned Lutyens to build Marshcourt, one of the very last such grand houses ever to be built in Britain. With so many people who have lived in the six houses Dan Cruickshank found plenty of interesting characters to discuss.

In spite of his arm waving and tendency to speak in a conspiratorial whisper, I do rather like Dan Cruickshank as presenter. Dan was in conversation with Lucy Worsley (who presented "If Walls Could Talk" so wonderfully) for ten minutes in the first episode, and I did wonder whether the series might have had more "zip" had she been the presenter. However, on reflection I think it is good to have presenters with a variety of styles in documentaries.
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on 15 February 2013
I'm a big fan of Dan Cruickshank, and not sorry I bought the dvd, but oh dear, the music!! So you sit there with the remote permanently in your hand, constantly adjusting the sound. When the music strikes up, it's deafening, so you have to rapidly turn it down. But when DC finally speaks, in the rather hushed and confidential tones he uses, you can't hear a word he's saying, so you turn the sound up again. But there are times when the music's blaring AND he's speaking at the same time, in which case you give up trying to hear what he's saying, because it's impossible. Whoever put this dvd together, and overlaid the music blasting out at goodness-only-knows how many decibels, should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. A really interesting series, but spoiled.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 22 September 2011
Dan Cruickshank began his career with the BBC as consultant, writer and presenter on the architectural programmes, in addition to his being Visiting Professor in the Department of Art at the University of Sheffield and a member of the London faculty of the University of Delaware. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Artists, a member of the Executive Committee of the Georgian Group and on the Architectural Panel of the National Trust and many other positions besides, all related to architecture.

But it is not his impressive CV which attracts and holds his viewers. It is his enthusiastic personality and vast knowledge of his subject, both of which are conveyed in that breathless, quiet voice which rises and falls in concert with his wonderment and sweeping arm gestures. Wearing his long, oil-impregnated coat just in case of storms not the now familiar scarf and battered hat for hot countries, he travels around the British Country houses and takes us with him, not just as a travelling companion but in his enthusiasm.

Another great series on DVD. Recommended.
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on 2 July 2012
Overall i think this is a great series and i am glad i purchased it. The only detraction for me was that it had maybe a bit too much focus on the history of the house and the owners etc rather than footage of the houses themselves. I would have enjoyed it more if the DVD spent a little more time providing footage of the rooms and gardens and the contents of the houses.
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on 27 December 2011
I really enjoyed TCHR. It was a fascinating insight into the history of some of Englands finest houses/mini palaces. The people who designed them, the generations of families who lived in them, their link with British history, and the way the families made their money to pay for them and how they lost their fortunes, even tales of robbery and murder, plus of course a guided tour of the homes and grounds.

Dan Cruickshank's presenting style could best be described as eccentric but engaging, he is certainly different, but having said that it is quite obvious he has a passion for history and knows his stuff.

If you have always had an interest in those big English country homes and have even had dreams of living in one this dvd won't disappoint.
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on 12 August 2015
Dan Cruickshank. What joy, enthusiasm, and knowledge he brings to any of his studies. If you see his name, rest assured you are in for a treat.
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on 23 October 2013
Arrived fast and well packaged. I am a family history addict and it was marvellous to hear the history of two of the Country Houses featured but particularly Wentworth Woodhouse in Yorkshire. My grandparents were born, and grew up, very close it. Alas I live far away. The DVD gave an insight into their world though now a distant memory to many.
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on 23 May 2014
Dan Cruikshank breathes life into a quite thorough study of a series of houses that are not that well known (all in private hands), but in fact have a lot to recommend them. Very interesting study of the interplay between the owners/creators and the buildings themselves.
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