on 16 August 2012
You know that if Michael Wood is involved then the production is going to be authoritive, passionate, meticulous in its detail and top quality. This is series, first broadcast on BBC2 in the summer of 2012, is no different.
Some of it does recycle footage from his earlier Story of England programme but only where it fits into the context of our history. If you saw that production the structure of this series follows the same path with original words from previoius centuries voiced by the citizens of today which I find very effective, particularly when the words still bear relation to some of the struggles of today, as well as archeological digs to flag up how villages boomed and bust.
I am sure some historians will quibble at important events that were either omitted or glossed over but what you get here is something more a social history of Great Britain rather than a list of previous kings and queens. It's an important addition for anyone with an interest in their own lands and how they were shaped by invasions, settlement, language, traumatic pestilence, social upheaval and the industrial age.
on 6 March 2013
I was visiting Birmingham when I happened to watch one of the episodes in the hotel TV. I had previously glimpsed another about English History (this DVDs are focused on the wider British History) and decided then and there that back in Spain I would buy the whole series. And I was not disappointed.
This progam was made to celebrate queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee.
The underlying premise is that we are not very different from our ancestors, and that much of our present (well, the UK's situation) was won and gained by them, their labour, fights and work. Wood insists that Britain (including Ireland) was, and is, a melting pot of peoples from all sides of the world, and that has made Her stonger, richer, cleverer. For example, he devotes some footage to the presence of the "Moors", that is, the black servants or slaves that were common enough in London several centuries ago, and had a visible role in society. For Wood, everybody has a place in Britain and anybody has something to give to the commont project. I think that the music theme (the Rainbow from Wizard of Oz) is chosen to that end.
What I like most from this series is the way in which Wood introduces normal people into the facts of the narrative; the way in which the lessons learned in those times, the things that happened can also affect our times and what we can do about them and about our problems, our own crisis. This is also a characteristic of Wood, and could be seen in some of his other productions (i.E. the Trojan Wars).
Besides, one cannot praise enough the quality of the production, photography, music, use of historical sources, etc. But then these are characteristic BBC and Wood's. Nothing new, then, and that is very high praise.
This is a program that shows how to teach history, to make it lively, vivid and fun. And to use it to its true end, to help us know who we are. Of course, in such a short viewing time some things, even important ones have been left out, for example the Crusades, the 100 years war, the 30 years war, the Americas... but then this is a social history of the people, more than that of their leaders, even if they had great importance.
So this is a highly recommended documentary.
Subtitled ‘A People’s History’, Michael Wood’s excellent ‘The Great British Story’ was a bit of a disappointment the first time I watched it broadcast in 2012, but watching it a couple of times since on DVD has made me realise just how powerful a story he tells.
In essence it is an expansion of his earlier series that told the history of England by focussing on one town, Kibworth in Leicestershire. The series is shot in the same style but on a broader canvas, with beautiful scenes often spoiled by cut-heavy editing. As in the earlier series, much use is made of quotations from contemporary documents relayed to camera by the ordinary man and woman in the street. These often fascinating documents include letters, churchwardens’ accounts, chronicles, diaries, eyewitness testimonies, poems and songs, as well of course as the likes of Domesday and Magna Carta.
Rather than focussing on one town in Leicestershire, this time Wood travels the length and breadth of Britain to tell the story from below. For sure, kings and queens perforce must occasionally appear in the tale, but there is, for example, no mention of Edward I’s conquests of Wales and Scotland and the Wars of the Roses are notable by their absence. Instead, this is assuredly a history of Britain of the ordinary ‘Briton’ who is occasionally swept up by national events. Wood calls it “British history … viewed from the street.” Worlds War One and Two appear but not Napoleon or Wellington; we have the Civil Wars, which effected everyone) but not the Spanish Armada (who effected a few).
There are eight hour-long episodes. The first takes us up to the time of Bede; the second sees tribes become nations – Picts, Gaels, Welsh, Cornish, English, Viking. Episode three relates the effects of ‘The Norman Yoke’, whilst the fourth jumps from the Black Death and the Peasants’ Revolt to the years of the early Tudors. The consequences of the Reformation come next (‘Lost Worlds and new Worlds’), and those of the Civil Wars (‘The Age of Revolution’) in episode six. ‘Industry and Empire’ is the title of the penultimate episode. The last brings us up to the twentieth century where Wood also looks at modern British identities.
It’s all, alas, a whistle-stop tour, despite the detail. In my opinion, a whole series could be based on each individual episode. But we should at least be grateful that we have a full two episodes, a complete 120 minutes of great history-telling before we even come to 1066. Wales, Scotland, Ireland – even Cornwall – get their share of the limelight with Wood trying to give equal billing to each, but one cannot help feeling that they almost only enter the story in response to events in England.
Wood obviously knew the story he wanted to tell but nevertheless it is clear that an immense amount of research and organisation must have been done to make this series possible. But for all of Wood’s genuine and infectious enthusiasm for his subject – and his liberal optimism is infectious – sometimes it proves too much, when objects and documents are continually praised as ‘tremendous’, or ‘absolutely great’, or ‘just fantastic’.
Numerous talking heads appear, ordinary people interspersed with some well-known experts such as Carenza Lewis, Stephen Driscoll, Della Hooke, Turi King, Mark Stoyle, Chris Dyer, David Carpenter, and Peter Hennessy. Wood himself offers some astute observations, such as our concept of parliamentary democracy coming not from ancient Greece but from events in seventeenth-century England, and the first industrial nation being not England but Wales (or at least South Wales). Wood is naturally strongest in his own chosen area of study, the Dark and Middle Ages.
In conclusion, then, once one dispenses with the surface fluff and hype, this is actually a profound meditation on the origins and development of the people of Britain. Underneath the hype, we have here a well-considered and yet diverse approach to what it means to be a modern ordinary person in Britain today.
Alas, the only extras are a picture gallery and a Michael Wood biography.
on 4 March 2013
This is an excellent survey of our history from early times. The focus is very much about the ordinary people of Great Britain and the problems they encountered and overcome. Unlike most other historians on the box, Michael Wood does not concentrate on Kings and Queens or other "great people" in our history. This approach may seem a bit old-fashioned now, i.e. the lack of emphasis on "charismatic" leaders, and more of the general flow of history (though told in the form of the experiences of individuals as reflected in the records, mainly local, of the times), but this does really show how we as a people have arrived at the point we have reached, and highlights pointers to where we might further progress. As a child of the sixties this documentary corresponds to the kind of approach I adopt as regards history.
on 25 March 2013
This series is an absolute must for anyone slightly interested in History. It is not the usual King kills Prince, dates, war on France, King kills King, dates, war on France etc that usually goes on - this is history as it affected the people who lived it. Michael tells us a story of how history shaped a village and its inhabitants from the year dot to the present. You could not get a more enthusiastic or a more knowledgeable presenter than Michael - he truly is a pleasure to watch. Everything about this series is wonderful, the photography, the research, the detail and more importantly, the BBC orchestra aren't being a paid by the note like it's some Lord of the Rings episode. From watching this, I bought everything else Michael Wood has done - I have not been disappointed. Encore Encore!
on 16 May 2016
This brilliant series, which resembles no other tv-series is digs deep into the very soul of the English spririt and people, -mark you "people", -it's not about kings and queen and dukes, but about ordinary folk, men and women who created the England we know today.It is masterly done.