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HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERon 7 November 2016
As a hybrid Scot, mixed Scottish and English heritage, living in the Highlands it seemed essential to get to grips with an overview of the history of Scotland. As one who has enjoyed Neil Oliver's personal takes on the TV 'Coast' series it seemed likely that he would be an entertaining and informative guide to his own country.

This expectation has proved to be true for both myself and my, English, wife who found the whole series to be equally compelling. Neil Oliver is never short on enthusiasm and often spikes his dialogue with humorous side lines such as Ann, a sizeable Queen of England, requiring a square coffin! This mixture of accurate historical detail enlivened by possibly irreverent comment will be engrossing for those who warm to his 'Coast' contributions but may be irritating to those who don't! One can never be in doubt about his passion concerning the subject and in this respect he shares his knowledgeable and committed style with the likes of David Attenborough. There is never a suggestion of reading a script - this comes straight from the heart with added intensity!

The video content is well up to BBC standards and features plenty of stunning Scottish scenery. There is some repetition of slow motion images such as falling goblets and spilt blood on floors but, as this is probably preferable to seeing blood shed in reality, it should not prove to be much of an obstacle to enjoyment. The same can be said of the musical soundtrack which has far more appropriate character than much to be found swamping the sounds of nature on wildlife documentaries for example.

The two sixty minute documentaries provided as bonus material and covering the advent of Christianity in Ireland and then Scotland is of adequate interest but unlikely to be re-visited for repeat viewing. The total content could have been usefully reduced to one episode without loss as there is a shortage of new visual material for 120 minutes. The accompanying educational content tends to be somewhat repetitive, revisiting ideas from different but similar viewpoints to reinforce simple ideas. Not too much need be made of this though as, for most purchasers, the focus will be on the excellent ten-part 'History of Scotland.'

This is a compelling survey of key moments in Scotland's history presented in Neil Oliver's typically informative, engaging and intensely personal style.
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on 16 January 2015
Great photography, beautiful scenery, quite good presentation, unfortunate though understandable simplification of certain issues... this series is high quality and since there doesn't seem to be much alternative, can be strongly recommended.

The scenes of dripping blood, spilt wine and soldiers dressing for battle which are repeated quite often throughout the narration can get a bit tedious. Another serious annoyance was the ridiculous computer generated map displays. Not only did they twirl around from unpredictable directions (perhaps the makers thought the convention of showing north at the top is boring?) but they were covered in clouds! CLOUDS! If you want to show the viewer where something is, just show us the map! Just because Scotland is usually covered in clouds doesn't mean the map has to be too.

Neil Oliver isn't bad at all (some of the actors aren't quite so good though). He's very earnest, quite charismatic but he's not really a historian and it's a bit unconvincing that he pretends to be. Never mind, the material was written with the consultation of real experts so apart from the simplifications to save us from confusing complication, it's quite good.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 11 October 2013
Like Simon Schama's `History of Britain' (aka `A History of England'), Neil Oliver's focus on just Scotland in just ten episodes could never hope to be comprehensive. Like Schama, we are presented with snapshots that concentrate on particular events or on particular social ideas, this latter point being one of the major strands that distinguishes the Scottish psyche from its less philosophically-inclined neighbour south of the border. And I write as an Englishman, though with some Cornish and Welsh blood too.

Sat on a mountain overlooking a complex landscape interweaving land and sea, Oliver declaims in his introduction that, "I've often thought that Scotland's popular history is a bit like that landscape: always changing, impossibly romantic, often hidden by mists and low cloud, and above all packed with legends and heroic characters. But that's not history; it's mythology, and it's cursed Scotland's past and present." Oliver intends to debunk those myths: Calgacus is pulled up short, as is Saint Columba, Kenneth MacAlpin, William Wallace, Robert the Bruce. Even the Covenanters get some bad press - "Once this was God's country. Not anymore. Thank God for that!" - as does the kilt and tartan, which he deigns to wear himself for one episode. That national hero Walter Scott, read and adored by millions, we learn would have denied his readers their basic human rights, if he could.

But Oliver cannot escape the romance and heroism altogether, helped (or hindered) on the exceptionally fine Lord-of-the-Rings-esque soundtrack especially composed for the series by Paul Leonard-Morgan. His eyes occasionally twinkle and his story is one of triumphs as much as tragedies. And his is not a navel-gazing exercise, for along the way he takes us to England, France, Italy, America, and Jamaica. It is all beautifully shot and extremely skilfully edited, inspiring me to buy Oliver's book and to explore Scottish history further. There may be quibbles about some of what he has to say, but he is always engaging, insightful, and provocative: what more can one ask of an educational TV series?

Oliver's decision to go deep on some issues at the expense of a broad-brush approach pays dividends. But it does mean that, for example, the series starts with the battle of Mons Graupius and not with the preceding marches of the Romans three times into the Borders and Lowlands, and by the eighth minute of the series the Romans have already left the British Isles. Oliver tells us nothing about the Antonine Wall, the forts on the Gask Ridge, the Romans' relationship with the border tribes. There is no Ninian; no Dumbarton; no Votadini. This is not necessarily a gripe - Oliver after all only has six hundred minutes to tell a long, long story; and to concentrate on episode one where he attempts to cover a thousand years in an hour is unfair - but potential purchasers should be aware that there are gaps in his narrative that may disappoint, such as the expert on the Vikings of on Macbeth who finds that the second episode jumps straight to the reign of Alexander II.

That episode covers up to William Wallace but the narrative of the wars of independence is continued in episode three. It was relief to find at least one episode that is not dominated by Scotland's relationship with England, and that instalment is the fourth which explores the Lowland-Highland divide, "Scotland's guilty secret." Mary Queen of Scots and James VI then dominate episode five. Certainly the first half of the series is about kings, battles, and the striving for power; there is not much on the lives of the people such as changes in agriculture or the growth of towns.

That starts to change with episode six and the Covenanters, a very cleverly put-together story that stays close to its theme despite the call of louder voices. The Union and Jacobitism are the subject of episode seven, whilst the eighth ingeniously merges the destinies of four Scotsmen involved in the transatlantic trade. The Highland Clearances is set side by side with the Lowland Radicals in episode nine. In the final instalment, Oliver chronicles the rise of nationalism without explicitly taking sides: his words in themselves are neutral, but the choices he makes in telling the story of home rule give a good idea which side he is on.

In short, this is a powerful series based on the clash of ideas, where monarchs and political leaders are gradually subsumed as powerful pieces on the chessboard by economic and social forces. Don't just watch the series once: each further play of the set reveals a deeper level of understanding. So why do I only give four stars? Well, simply put, Scotland's history is dramatic enough not to need dramatic reconstructions. If it was not for these, however clever and imaginatively they were filmed and are presented, they consistently made me feel uncomfortable.
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on 22 October 2011
There are not that many authoritive accounts to be had on dvd dealing with the history of Scotland. Therefore this one is not to be missed. Introduced and presented by Neil Oliver who is best known for his contributions to the excellent Open University sponsored series Coast. I am a great fan of Neil Oliver's work, here he brings all his diverse talents as a narrator to the fore. The history of Scotland is a very broad subject but he threads his way through a sometimes bloody historical background to the birth of a nation. At no time during this great journey does he seek to talk down to or lecture the viewer as some others do, he lets the story unfold with little vignettes of reconstruction to help the story a long and is never less than enthusiastic about the subject in hand. Great attention is paid to the historical accuracy of the material presented. A first class attempt to open up the turbulent past of a nation many of us take for granted. I highly recommend this and give it 10/10.
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on 14 March 2014
Having read the book I purchased the Blu-ray disk set and I was not disappointed.

There will always be controversy over the interpretation of history but what Neil Oliver and the researchers have achieved is to provide an account of pertinent events which explains how and why Scotland has developed the way it has.

From a technical perspective the image quality on the blu-ray disk set is breathtaking, indeed stunning especially as the camera flows over the land and water with aerial footage.

Even if one is not especially keen on history I believe there is enough gripping material to keep one keen interested throughout the 10 epsiodes.

A documentary set well worth purchasing. Enjoy.

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on 31 July 2014
Neil Oliver makes what can be a dreary subject to some a very interesting subject, he has a way of telling the stories.
The scenery, as you would expect, is fantastic and the accompanying music ethereal and haunting at times fitting the scenes perfectly.
The price of just over £10 for 5 DVDs is exceptional value and I would recommend this set to anyone with a smattering of interest in Scottish history especially in the light of the current independence campaign
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 21 November 2016
Neil Oliver's narration is excellent. However, I found this confusing, with too many periods crammed into too little time. I couldn't keep track of who was who.
For someone who is already very familiar with Scottish history, this will probably not be a problem - but to them the tightly condensed history may feel superficial.
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on 25 June 2013
This is great value for a tenner and Neil Oliver does a good job compressing so much history into the time he has. He deals with some very unsavoury periods of history in honest detail though the scenes of driping blood do seem to come a bit too often... I think we got the message after the eighth and ninth showing of blood drops splattering on the cobbles. He says from the first programme that Scottish history is full of myth and politically motivated twisting and you would wish that otehr countries would admit that about their own history.
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on 10 February 2014
First seenon a non-high-definition television, I found the story-telling a little in one's face and patchy: very much an interpretation of how Scotland faired since its origins to he present day rather than any survey of actual achievements. However, when seen again on high-defintion with a new large television screen, the rather prosaic commentary is swallowed by the superb, award-winning photography, which justifies having the disks in its own right.
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on 12 November 2014
This is an interesting series with Neil Oliver presenting his view of Scotland's history. As an Englishman I found this to be very watchable and informative, although I did recognize a few areas where Mr Oliver's interpretation of history was at variance with the history books. My wife though, who has Scottish ancestry was quite vocal in her disagreement with the program. It led to some interesting discussions.
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