Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Great TV
I recently chanced upon a BBC program being run by PBS called "Battlefield Britain." When I saw the title in the TV grid listing, I thought it was part of the World War II series which I'd seen just enough of to make watching more inconceivable but I was wrong. This series is about battles in English history such as those against the Spanish Armada and the Welsh revolt of Owain Glyn Dwr. Absolutely fascinating.
The series hosts, a father and son team, do an amazing job of bringing the battles to life. They physically go to the locations of the fights - not exactly surprising given the title of the series - and demonstrate in a number of ways what transpired. They walk the field of battle and show how terrain affected the fight. Computer animations of the action give the viewer a remarkably good idea of what happened and, something that strikes me every time I watch, how few men were actually engaged in the battles that settled English history. These armies were of a few thousand men, not hundreds of thousands as the weight of history would make me want to believe.
There are actors in period garb who give a sense of immediacy to the computer simulations. A few men also are put in the position of commenting on the action as if they had been figting for one side or the other. Not that their commentary is particualrly brilliant but as dramaturgy, it is brilliant. Finally, the host has what I call the magic suitcase. It's a terrain model that folds open to show how the men were arrayed and opens the door for the computer animations to flow out of the narrative.
I can't do justice to how well done this series is in my description since they have done a masterful job of making history visual. But I will say this: If the show is broadcast in your area, watch it. It is one of the best military history programs ever.

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