Professor Simon Schama's A History of Britain is history as it should be - intellectually challenging, absorbing, fast-paced and always great storytelling.
I've seen all 15 episodes of this History at least twice now - some episodes three times - and they repay repeated viewing. Simon Schama's language is so rich, and the images chosen to illustrate his history are so compelling, that each viewing reveals new layers, and reveals more detail of the history of how today's Britain - and most aspects of today's Australia, for that matter - were formed.
Schama, educated at Cambridge, and now living in America, is best known for his printed works, including Citizen: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, and a devastatingly brilliant survey of ideas and culture, Landscape and Memory.
But this television series, made by the BBC and screened here twice so far on SBS, is his most accessible venture to date, and one certain to endure.
It is very much Simon Schama's personal and subjectively selective view of the history of Britain. It is, in its early episodes, really the history of England and how by conquest that country created the modern concept of Britain. And it is a selective history, with Schama's own inherent interests and biases creating a history which could be radically different than that of other scholars.
But this is, after all, Simon Schama's History, no-one else's. And the best documentaries for television, whether history or other subjects, have generally presented one person's unique view in their chosen subject.
I think Schama's documentary joins Jacob Bronowski's Ascent of Man, Kenneth Clark's Civilisation and the BBC series The World at War at the absolute pinnacle of this sort of inspired creative television. How fortunate are we that Schama's chronicling of Britain's history has coincided with the rise of DVD as the optimal way to place that chronicle in our homes!?
This is a standard Dolby Digital two-channel presentation, which is quite adequate for the striking music and the always very clear narrative. Dolby 5.1 might have been useful to give an added edge to some of the sound effects in the many battle scenes (Britain's history is pretty bloody, after all), but this great documentary series doesn't really need artificial exciters.
Buying this six-disc set would be a pretty major investment in history, but it would be repaid many times over through its sheer excitement, erudition and entertainment. This is television history as it should be told, and deserving of permanent collection status.