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4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 6 December 2002
The History of Britian is a fantasic journey through time. Simon Schama makes the stories come to life with his wonderful approach to history, not only giving details on the main figures and events, but also the everyday people and events and how they influenced the development of Britian today.
The additional features include history lectures by Simon Schama, also in his unique style, which complement the main content well.
A great educational and entertaining program.
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on 14 August 2014
Starting with prehistory and ending up in the (near-)present, Professor Simon Schama offers his own view of the history of some soggy islands moored off the coast of Europe, their unlikely rise to greatness and their decline back into ill-accepted obscurity, and ultimately what it means to be British. While unsparing of the manifold errors and sins of the British, his overall view is positive, that these funny little islands gave the world something worthwhile in the concepts of freedom and democracy that they engendered and developed, and how, in 1940, they stood up for them even when the chips were down. It was almost as if, as Churchill felt of himself in 1940, that everything that had gone before had been a preparation for this hour. With a little(?) help from its friends, the stubborn island race prevailed, but without its lone stand, perhaps nobody would have and the present would look very different. Churchill, for all his faults and imperialist tendencies, had a great sense of Britain's long history and a clear idea of what it meant to be British, and was prepared to put his money where his mouth was - and the world was ultimately glad that he did.

Naturally there is simply no way that a short TV series can capture 2000+ years of history in all its complexity, and, as Professor Schama points out, objectivity, while worth striving for, is never realistically attainable, and will always be coloured by the personal viewpoint of the writer/presenter. Plus, of course, the story is never finished. It reminds me of Chou En-lai's famous comment when asked about the effects of the French Revolution - "It's too early to tell". Britain's story continues to be written, and the current debates on leaving the EU and Scottish independence make plain that it is never written in stone.

I found Professor Schama's history highly informative, thought-provoking and above all entertaining, a story told with clarity, wit and insight. It offers no pointers for the future, but in a way perhaps it does - given his view of the British character, it perhaps reflects a quiet confidence that the island race will muddle through, no matter what the future throws at it.
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on 12 May 2005
I have watched Shama's "A history of Britain" so many times I lost count. It is one of the most entertaining documentary I have ever seen. Simon Shama is not only a wanderful historian, but also a incredible story teller. Inevitably, some details are missing and some theme get more attention than others (maybe the reason for the title's "A history ..." instead of "The history ..."?). But you can put on an episode of this excellent video and feel transported back in time, forgetting all about your current surroundings. This is the effect that only the best story tellers can achieve.
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VINE VOICEon 6 September 2005
This is a marvellous series trying to take in 5000 years of history in 14 and a half hours was always going to be a massive task and Simon Schama fulfils it admirably. Although there are many events that are mist out or only bushed over, this was always going to be the case and usually such events are well known enough that going over them would not add anything new to them. Another good thing about this series is that is does not pull any punches when it comes to events such as the Potato Famine and the Indian Mutiny, attempting to lay blame for these events at the doors of those who caused them but also putting forward the reasons why the events took place without toeing the reasons believed by the general public. Because of all this I feel that anybody and everybody who lives in the British Isles should watch it.
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on 11 July 2011
I really enjoyed this series, an excellent overview of the major events in British history. The obvious famous moments are here such as 1066, the English Reformation, the reign of Victoria but what I found really interesting were the less famous parts of the British story: the ancient ruins in the Northern Scottish islands and the social aspects of the 19th century seen through the eyes of ordinary people-not just the great and powerful.

Schama is both interesting and concise, he presentd the facts in a calm but interesting way without ever falling into hyperbole.

The only reason I have not given the series 5 stars is because the quality of the footage on the first disc was not always of a high quality, occasionally blotches appeared on the screen and at times the footage of Schama was fuzzy and looked much older then a decade old. Still a very good collection!
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on 13 July 2011
On the DVD extras Schama is careful to point out that this is his selective history of Britain and of course, nothing like this will be comprehensive. However, this is a great way to introduce people to their history and although Scotland, Wales and Ireland/Northern Ireland are neglected somewhat there are excellent series on the BBC exploring those issues presently such as A History of Scotland [DVD]
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on 17 April 2012
I cannot comment on these DVD's as they were bought as a present for my wife
who is in residential care. She is highly delighted with them and tells me that
her friends who have viewed them with her also enjoyed them. She was great fan
of the series when it was on tv and had wanted them for many months.
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on 20 August 2013
I watched the original series on BBCtv in 2001 and was hooked and spell bound. I was never great on history at school, mainly because I couldn't remember dates to save my life, and that's all it seemed to be about. I have always been interested in history however, and Simon Schama told me the stories in a way I had never heard them before. It's as if he's speaking just to you, sharing a secret with you, saying "let me tell you what really happened, there's more to this than you might think". And with his personable style, lilting tone and varying inflexion, he draws you in so that you really want to listen. Simon has the great story telling voice, his tone and pace are relaxing and a delight to listen to. Not since Jacob Bronowski and the Ascent of Man have I felt so beguiled by a story tellers voice.

He is so succinct with his words and tone of phrase that I feel that I can't miss a word or I will miss a crucial fact. He wastes no words at all. The mood is interesting and dramatic, stories are built up to crescendoes with the twists and turns of fate told vividly; you feel yourself holding your breath waiting to see what was the fate of some poor king. For me, the most telling and unique thing about Simon Schama's delivery is that I got the sense that he wasn't talking about events that took place 500 years ago, it could have been happening last week. It felt contemporary, as though they had been in the news just last week. With modern language and every day style, with wit and a very understated jocular style at times, I revelled in the "between you, me and the gate-post" style of revealing the plots and sub-plots. I really felt sorry for those tragic characters, but I also laughed, for if in the past someone had been an idiot, Simon tells you that he was an idiot.

For me, he told it like it was. It was about real people who lived real lives, and yes these things really did happen in our country. "A History of Britain" brings it all alive and pieces together those remnants of stone and pageantry that we see left today.
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on 23 October 2015
In his review here, Oliver W. Bedford writes: "Schama's good at ignoring major events if they don't fit in with his particular ideas of what constitutes history. His relegation of the Wars of the Roses (about three decades of bloody conflict) to a spoken footnote [sic] is really breathtaking."

Yes, Mr Bedford, Schama is "good at ignoring major events if they don't fit in with his particular ideas of what constitutes history", he's exceptionally good at it. In that, he's like most of the rest of the human race. In that respect, he is also like a very large number of historians. Even if you don't accept that generalisation, Schama freely and frequently admits that it is true for him, at least. In other words, he freely admits that he takes a very personal, subjective view of any subject that he writes or talks about.

When I was younger, I hated history, because we had a history teacher of the "old school", i.e. we had to learn a whole load of dates and battles but learnt nothing about the reasons why any event happened. I have only become interested in history in the last few years because I got drawn into it through a local history project I was working on. About 6 months ago, I read Prof E H Carr's book, "What is history?" Carr explains that a huge number of historians, both ancient and modern, have been good at ignoring major events if they don't fit in with their particular ideas of what constitutes history. So Schama certainly does not seem to be alone in taking a subjective, personal view of events.

It's probably clear that I'm something of a Schama fan, a fan of his books, at least. However, I've given this DVD set four stars instead of five because I'm not completely convinced that he is suited to this kind of presentation of his thoughts. Other reviewers have mentioned already the many shots of grassy meadows, which could be anywhere, but are actually the site of some famous battle, and the little scenes with actors in period costume charging around, enacting Vikings or Normans or Saxons or whatever. I, too, felt that these shots and these scenes just didn't work, and detracted from an otherwise excellent 14.5 hours of viewing. I also felt that this DVD set was good value for money.
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on 20 January 2010
I'm not a historian and therefore can't comment on the accuracy of the information presented, but i'm assuming it's accurate. Simon Schama is an excellent presenter and his enthusiasm for the subject is obvious. Mr Schama makes no apologies for offering a very personal view of the events he covers.
I found the series extremely interesting and i'd go so far as to say it's compelling viewing, and it was delivered in a very entertaining way.
Excellent value.
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