Top critical review
Interesting, but rushed and shallow
on 1 February 2017
I liked the concept - recreating high street shops of a bygone era, with people plying their trades the way they would have at that time, and trying to sell their wares to modern customers.
Unfortunately, the makers tried to cram too much into this programme, and in consequence it was shallow and gave no real understanding of any trade or any period. There are several kinds of shops represented in several periods... the result is a blur.
Shortly before watching this series, I'd watched The Victorian Pharmacy with Ruth Goodman, which followed one trade in one shop in one period, and devoted several DVDs it. This gave gave me a real understanding of pharmacies, pharmacists, medicines and patients/customers in the Victorian era. When I watched The High Street, the contrast was painful. It was so rushed and shallow.
To make matters worse, the makers of these films didn't even stick to one time level in each programme. Instead, they made the participants act out several years in one week, and at the same time act out the week - something even a science fiction movie wouldn't attempt. For example, one day the baker accepted an order for a decorated wedding cake, and the men marched off to fight in the First World War. A few days later, the war had ended and the men came back... and they were making the wedding cake that had been ordered. Huh? Four years to make a wedding cake?
Also, the programme lacks all realism. For example, the shopkeepers had to prove that they could make profits, and competed against each other in this. But since some arrived to well-stocked shops with valuable goods ready to sale, while others had to buy the ingredients in order to have something to sell, some this was an uneven 'contest'.
The programme makers clearly couldn't decide if they wanted reality TV, a contest, a documentary, a renactment, or what. It's all mixed up, and not in a coherent way.
I recommend the history DVDs with Ruth Goodman and her team instead. Those focus on a particular subject and a particular period, and provide real information, practical experiments and historical reenactments in a convincing manner