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A History of Britain

Simon Schama , Michael Kitchen    Unrated   DVD
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
List Price: CDN$ 74.98
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A History of Britain + A History of Scotland + The Story of Ireland (2011)
Price For All Three: CDN$ 142.46

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Product Description


What do you get when you combine the resources and ethos of the BBC with the literary panache of one of the world's best narrative historians? The answer is Simon Schama's History of Britain television series. In this well-written and thoughtfully crafted survey, Schama, the bestselling author of books on European cultural history such as The Embarrassment of Riches and Citizens, has managed to be both conventional and provocative. He tells the official version of Britain's story--Roman Britain, the Norman Conquest, the struggles of the Henrys and Richards, Elizabeth I, Scottish rebellions and the English Civil Wars, the American Revolution, the growth of the British Empire, Queen Victoria, the industrial age, and Winston Churchill. But while sticking to a script familiar to anyone who sat up and listened during history class, Schama brings it all alive with memorable prose and presence--Simon de Montfort's rebel parliament is described as inaugurating the "union between patriotism and insubordination"; with Henry VIII, Schama says, "you could practically smell the testosterone." Schama is also particularly enlightening on the symbolism of buildings, memorials, language, and ceremonies, and on the complex relations between England and its Celtic and Catholic neighbors. If history must have gloss, then let it be presented like this. --Miles Taylor

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must for any Anglophile... March 25 2004
A History of Britain is a wonderful but pricey treat for any fan of British history. Some of the negative reviews complain that it is too superficial. How, I would ask, can you give a COMPLETE history of a country that spans 5,000 years? The collection consists of 15 hour-long documentaries starting from Britain's earliest past, five-thousand years ago. We see the still-standing stone communities where the ancient British dwelled.
Of course, Simon Schama must be selective in what he chooses to discuss. Each episode has a theme. Although all the major points of British history are touched upon, Schama will focus on the most interesting bits of each event - how and why they happened and what they meant. He tries to give us a sense of reasons behind historical events and not just dates and places. My favorite episode deals with Henry II - arguably England's greatest and most under-appreciated monarch. We see his troubles with Thomas a Beckett. Schama re-creates, in vivid detail, what the "Murder in the Cathedral" was like: Beckett was not a plaster saint, but a street-wise tough kid from the wrong side of the docks who fearlessly faced down his murderers.
Visually, the series shows some re-enactments with actors. There are many voice-over readings of historical documents. Schama is the only featured performer. He takes you to the various places and narrates in a very distinctive, clipped manner of speaking. Ultimately, it is the shots of the timeless Britain that are the most effective - the hills, the meadows, and especially the sea. These are the bits that have remained the same and convey the greatest feeling of history.
I can't imagine anybody not being fascinated by this program. They are very re-watchable. Having examined them, you will feel a much deeper understanding of British history - and indeed world history. Perhaps no other country has a story as fascinating, as rich, or as varied as Britain's. Watch this and you will know why.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History of Britain Sept. 3 2009
By June
The history of Britain is great for anyone who wants to have a better understanding of the last two thousand years of British history. Brian Schama is entertaining and reasonably thorough in his approach. Only complaint is that there a somewhat strong reliance on pictures, artifacts and scenic locales. Most likely all that can be done when you are dealing with historical data unless there were re-enactments which is not the focus of this material.

Overall if you want a better understanding of British history in chronological order - this is it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Schama, A True Historian. Dec 8 2003
By hmshood
Thank you Simon Schama and everyone else involved in making these documentaries and releasing them on DVD. Five discs dealing with the history of Great Britain from 3100 BC to the 20th century. You get to find the true story behind the man Mel Gibson played in Braveheart. You get to know all about all the major kings and queens that shaped the UK. You get to know all about the invasions by the Roman Empire and the Vikings and what impact that had on the Britons. Winston Churchill, Oliver Cromwell and George Orwell are here. There's a documentary on the effect the Plague (Started in 1348) had on England. This is an awesome boxset and well worth the price thanks to Simon and company. I could not have asked for any better, But I wish Simon would do a three or four hour documentary that went into the details of the Falklands war. It would be cool if he did the same for the British side of the story of WWII and WWI. Anyways he did a superb job on this, I am just most fascinated with the conflicts of the 20th century. I don't like movies based on conflicts that happened so long ago but documentaries is a different story. Simon makes it so interesting. Thank you Simon for all your hard work in getting this job done. I really appreciate it. Cheers.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Effortless History April 19 2003
By J. Mir
Unlike James Burke whose popular connections series made no apologies for appealing to a mass audience, Professor Schama lays out the subject matter and simply assumes one can "keep up". And indeed, one can. It is a brilliant overview of the History of Britain; moreover, the visual combination of still photos and comtemporary video is mixed nicely throughout. Best viewed with a straight shot of Midelton and a pint of Stout.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amasing historian and story teller July 20 2012
By Rene
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
Schama is an amasing historian. He starts with the history of Britain 3000 BC and after 2 DVDs we are only at the 13th century AD. The presentations are extremely dense and requires all your attention...What is interesting is to learn what a nation of warriors these british were....the fighting was obviously brutal sometimes against external armies sometimes internal ennemies.

Don't watch Schama after dinner, watch and learn a lot on Britain before dinner and preferably before cocktails. Another comment you can only absorb the material presented in small doses. I am therefore anxious to watch the remaining DVDs.

Schama has my admiration because he is presenting the history of Britain, as it did happen, without any bias. Although he is very british he has developed that superb technique of keeping you focused on the topic.

Rene Tinawi
Emeritus Professor of Civil Engineering
Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good but not great DVD Oct. 8 2003
About the program:
I understand that there is, of course, no archival film footage of medieval England, so the visual aspect of these programs had to be created from nothing, but some of the choices are questionable. Yes, we get a lots of landscape pictures (sped up Koyaanisqatsi-style so we can see all the clouds go zooming by, over and over again), but we also get closeups of hawks flying, wolves fighting, etc--images that just don't fit with the content we hear.
About the DVD:
There are neither captions nor subtitles. This is unacceptable, especially for educational material.
There are no extras. The box has to list chapter selection and interactive menus to cover up its lack of bonus materials. The only actual extra is some biographical text screens on historical figures. This sounds better than it is. The first disc, containing the first three episodes, sports but one biography--hardly enough when many important figures are featured in the first three installments.
I might find this lack of extras forgivable (the series itself is quite well-done afterall, despite my annoyance with the visuals), except that the British version of this title has a whole 'nother disc filled with bonus material. I wish I had gotten that one, and, if you play region 2 DVDs and PAL, you might want to look at amazon.co.uk.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A History of Britain
D.V.D. was a gift for a friend who is struggling to master a good working knowledge of The United Kingdom and this product turned out very well and filled the bill... Read more
Published on July 3 2012 by purdy44
5.0 out of 5 stars A History of Britain
A History of Britain: The Complete Collection

A fasinating account in dramatic fashion, of a powerful nation's past. Read more
Published on May 8 2009 by Allan Johnson
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent tour through time
A great series. I bought this after thoroughly enjoying Schama's "Power of Art". I wasn't disappointed. Read more
Published on March 4 2009 by M. Anstey
1.0 out of 5 stars English History as only The English can tell it.
Like others, I was hoping that I had found a definitive, unbiased and honest history of Britain here. Read more
Published on May 3 2005 by R. McMullen
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good, covers a lot of ground.
I really don't understand the one-star reviews and their complaints about the series. Saying that the series focused on the gory details and sex is a plain exageration. Read more
Published on July 5 2004 by Javier Bouzas
1.0 out of 5 stars Very Disappointing
With anticipated glee, we bought this DVD series as a Christmas gift for our family; however, as we went through each of the 5 DVD's, we became increasingly disappointed in... Read more
Published on June 25 2004 by Barry Burrus
2.0 out of 5 stars A rather uninteresting and pretentious overview of Britain
I purchased this series with high hopes and I found viewing it to be very disappointing. The host was annoying the images added nothing to the presentation and there was way too... Read more
Published on June 7 2004 by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Worthy effort but not the last word. Leaves much out.
Although I still enjoyed this presentation, I must confess I was somewhat disappointed in it too. Some monarchs are overdone by Mr. Read more
Published on Feb. 2 2004 by Jeff A. Dietrich
2.0 out of 5 stars Superficial.
It is not about Britain but about Simon Schama [however the last hour of Volume 5 is interesting]. If you still have some doubts: just compare this documentary with Mark Twain by... Read more
Published on Jan. 23 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and entertaining history
This may be the most interesting history series I've ever seen. As a whole, I was more captivated by the earlier history than the more recent. Read more
Published on Jan. 8 2004 by Sven F. Pride
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