I did actually watch the whole series - quite a trial for a person who is really fascinated by history, and expects to learn something from any history documentary series. But I was curious to see how it would all fit together (and to just what lengths the producers would go).
It's hard to categorise "The British", or even guess at what purposes the producers had in mind. An attempt to draw in and capture the notoriously short attention spans of the Reality TV / Soap Opera / celebrity generation? In fact the whole series reminded me exactly of those sorts of rah-rah TV productions that try to drum up support for a national team prior to a major international sporting event. Or like one of those expert commentary shows about football. It was not produced by the usual British documentary companies, but for Sky-TV (part of the Rupert Murdoch stable). Aha!
In a collection of really strange production decisions, one of the most bewildering was the choice of talking head 'expert' commentary. There were some of the usual smattering of history professors and expert authors, but they all seemed to have little of consequence to say. Presumably the producers didn't want to overtax viewers' mental capacity (or have them switching back to Big Brother).
But 'expert opinion' did not get much exposure anyway compared to actors, comedians, famous broadcasters, rock singers, musicians and footballers! I mean, I like and respect Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons and many of the other actors featured. Normally. But these are truly the worst lines these people have ever had to deliver, even in their bad films. And nearly all of the comments from all these last categories of commentators were about how these people "felt". Often not even about the specific historical event or trend being outlined, but in a general, vaguely propagandistic way, as if they were giving their opinion on why their favourite football team would win their game on the coming weekend. Relevant? Rarely. Weird? Nearly always.
Those are the really bad features. Obviously it's hard to give a potted history of more than 2,000 years of British history in seven 50-minute episodes, especially where people like Simon Schama have done it so well. So, if the purpose was to give the current generation an overview of British history that they would otherwise never have (or never have watched), then I suppose it fulfils that purpose. And with the epic battle scenes, currently in-trend computer graphical reconstructions and other such 'blockbuster' features, it is clear that this was the intention. So, if it does awaken curiosity about the past in those people and the wish to investigate further, so much the better.
But it says less about any particularly accurate or objective recounting of history. It silently says more about what thinking skills human beings are losing as a result of the passive 24-hour infotainment web we are being drawn into, as well as the increasingly lamentable state of western education. Some powers that be want us trained to work their jobs, indoctrinated to cheer for our manufactured heroes, but not generally educated to question what has been done in the past, what we can learn from it, what we are doing now, or why. That's what history documentary series usually do. This one don't. It's all Yay Team!
Let's hope this is not the start of a trend for historical documentaries. As it seemed to be such a flop, this is probably unlikely. After all, ratings are king in this world.
I thought the very last frame of the credits, announcing that it was a "nut-opia" production (my breakup of the word) said it all.
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