From the dawn of civilization to the 20th century, A HISTORY OF BRITAIN re-animates familiar tales and illuminates overlooked aspects of England's past. Written and hosted by historian Simon Schama (the bestselling author ... more »of Rembrandt's Eyes and The Embarrassment of Riches), this monumental The History Channel®/BBC co-production has been hailed by critics for its colorful--and controversial--approach, which discards timelines and tiresome lineages for a lively look at the personalities and cultures that infuse British history. From India to Ireland, the Norman Invasion to the American Revolution, Schama spotlights the epic themes and towering figures that transformed an island "at the edge of the world" into the greatest empire on earth, examining the impact of this extraordinary heritage on the modern nation. All 15 episodes of the landmark series are available on DVD for the first time in this extraordinary collector's set that belongs in the library of every history buff. Beginnings, Conquest, Dynasty, Nations, King Death, Burning Convictions, The Body of the Queen, The British Wars, Revolutions, Britannia Incorporated, The Wrong Empire, Forces of Nature, Victoria and her Sisters, Empire of Good Intentions, The Two Winstons.« less
Buy the original BBC edition, not this A&E version
dooby | 04/11/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Schama's History of Britain is indeed a fine introduction to British History (or at least British History through English eyes). This documentary series is very well made and deserves all the 5 star ratings it get's at this site. However, no one seems to mention that this DVD set released by A&E/The History Channel is actually a cropped version, modified to fit a standard TV screen. This series was shot by the BBC in widescreen, as much to take advantage of the new widescreen medium as to project the panoramic grandeur of British history.
Both the Region 2 (UK & Europe) and Region 4 (Australia & New Zealand) versions are all in the original 1.85:1 widescreen (enhanced for widescreen TV). Only in America are we afforded the singular privilege of watching this show in a crappy Pan-&-Scan format courtesy of A&E/The History Channel.
The best buy right now would be to get the UK edition sold under the BBC's own label. Not only does it have 6 discs (1 disc of special features) compared to 5 in the American version, it is also much cheaper. You can get it through Amazon UK (at a 43% discount as of this date). Just make sure your system is able to play Region 2 discs and has native PAL capability. UK programs are recorded in PAL format rather than standard American NTSC."
Brilliant series that makes history alive!
Deborah MacGillivray | US & UK | 12/22/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There are a lot of history specials out there, but none so brilliantly conceived and realised at this series. I love history, especially the history of Britain, and so it was never dry, stale facts to me. But few bring it into focus, make it so accessible, and cut through the fat, so to speak, to give you a clean, logical, common sense approach to History of England 101 Crash Course as Simon Schama does. Each episode is well-written, fast paced and thoughtfully crafted, with marvellous location work to support his tromp through the corridors of time. He discards dates as the primary input and goes to the movers and shakers, makes you see the Kings and King makers with eyes that are fresh and vital.After you travel this amazing journey through time, you will be sadden that history is not present this way in the schools and we all did not have Schama as our teacher!Nirvana for British History lovers!"
So, What's Not to Like?
dooby | 07/17/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am neither a history scholar nor a serious history buff, but I suppose that I am an Anglophile (with an especial appreciation for Thomas More, Charles Dickens, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and, at the moment, Tony Blair). I rushed out to buy this set after hearing Simon Schama give a talk at Brigham Young University earlier this year. Schama is a very charismatic speaker, and I'd be surprised if he didn't end up selling hundreds of BYU students and faculty on his videos that day.When I think of this series, a few of the words that come to mind are "beauty", "authenticity", and "solemnity". Schama's narration is spell-binding, and the cinematography (if that's the right word) is gorgeous. These are documentaries that it looks like took a lot of money to make, not because of the scale of historical re-enactments involved (which is relatively modest) but because of the overall quality of the product.Since Schama can neither be classified as a hagiographer nor an iconoclast, I'd almost include the word "balanced" in my description of his work, but that word might suggest mediocrity or at least moderation, and there's nothing lukewarm about the positions Schama takes. I suppose that there are people out there who might find Schama's dramatic and strongly-opinionated style off-putting. There might even be people who find the British countryside ugly and Britain's historical treasures boring. To the rest of you, I give this set a strong recommendation. As one caveat: there are maybe 2 or 3 spots in the 15 hours of this series in which parental discretion might be advised."
For those who thought History was boring...
James N Taylor | 03/26/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I was one of those who throughout my school history lessons (I'm British btw) - yawned, misspelt essays, forgot important dates and mixed-up defining moments of my home country. It was just not for me, science please. After watching this series, I wish they had DVD's a few years ago!As soon as I saw the first episode, I went out, took the risk and bought the set. Fantastic. Divided into nice bite size pieces, Simon Schama takes us through the years, actually giving me an understanding and perspective on what happened so long ago, in an entertaining and informative style. Somehow he seems to get huge amounts of information, without you even realising it. I began to understand Britain's role defining parts of world history, for right or wrong. Boy can he tell a tale and keep you intrigued, it's hard for you not to want to stick the next DVD in, save for not wanting to get through it too soon. But then you do and rapidly get back to the beginning, watching it all again.Simon has his own style of narrative delivery, twitching and jerking his way when on screen. Most amusing but you can't not be endeared to him and be in awe of his knowledge. Respect.Perhaps not for the history boffin? Not at all, my girlfriend is history nut and she loves it. It has pride of place in my collection.Keep up the good work BBC, your're unique, paid for by the people, for the people. And advertising free."
Britain, from a certain point of view...
D. S. Thurlow | Alaska | 12/14/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This 2008 repackaging of 2001's "A History of Britain", featuring Simon Schama as author and presenter, is not the standard history of Great Britain. Schama is no slave to historical convention and his 15-episode retelling explores British history from a slightly different point of view.
Schama's famous BBC series traces British history from Roman Britain through the death of Winston Churchill in 1965. His focus is not timeline oriented; many prominent players in British history rate no more than passing mention. Even the iconic Churchill has to share the last episode with Eric Blair, better known by his literary name of George Orwell. Instead, Schama seeks to identify the slow, difficult steps by which Britain became a constitutional monarchy with individual freedoms and the rule of law. Those steps are found in Roman Britain, in the endless dynastic and religious wars that defined the powers of the monarchy and parliament, in the disaster of the Black Death, and in the long political and military struggles to build a united British nation and then a British empire.
The episodes feature important archeological sites, castles, ruined abbeys, and other locations where important events took place. We meet the prominent personalities of the narrative through pictures, paintings, sculptures, tomb representations, and, rarely, reenactment. Schama narrates in person, stalking through ruins, landscapes and museums while delivering his rather blunt colloquial commentary.
"A History of Britain" is not for everyone. The thematic presentation may be hard to follow for those not already familiar with British history. Those wedded to a romantic vision of a storied past may find Schama's blunt disection of power politics to be off-setting. Schama's twitchy physical presence may be distracting for some viewers.
On the other hand, this telling of British history is engaging, realistic, and thought-provoking in getting at the heart of what it means to be British. The story is as much Scottish, Irish, and Welsh as English in coverage. Prominent personalities are shown in their full rounded humanity. The presention itself is polished work. "A History of Britain" is therefore highly recommended to fans of British history looking for a fresh angle."