BFS Video // 2012 // 354 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge P.S. Colbert // August 22nd, 2012
Nearly everything you've ever wanted to know about Cardiff, Pontypridd, and the surrounding communities gathered under the banner of the Red Dragon gets a thorough going over in The Story Of Wales, the epic six hour historical travelogue produced by the BBC.
"From the ice age to the information age," says host Huw Edwards. "It's a tale that's been thirty thousand years in the making."
That tale is broken down into six discs, each with two episodes on apiece:
• "The Making Of Wales"
• "Power Struggles"
• "England And Wales"
• "Furnace Of Change"
• "A New Beginning"
• "Wales And Britain"
Edwards, anchorman of Britain's most watched news program, BBC News At Ten, returns to his native land, literally trekking over hill and dale as he not only recounts, but brings his audience along to revisit markers in Welsh history. Starting with a risky scramble over the rocky crags of Gower Peninsula, Edwards enters a cave wherein was discovered the "Red Lady of Paviland," reportedly the first human fossil discovered anywhere in the world, and the earliest example of ceremonially buried human remains in Western Europe.
That's only the beginning, but a dynamic one, displaying breathtaking aerial photography, which spreads the sumptuous coastal highlands across the screen like marmalade over warm bread, fresh from the oven. Soon commence equally astonishing ventures underground (to Llandudno, which covers the world's largest prehistoric copper mine), and all points across the map high and low, from County Glamorgan (Edward's birthplace) to the Anglesey Isle.
The picture and sound are every bit as vivid and beautiful as the country itself, though the lack of subtitles robs non Welsh-speakers of a chance to start making sense of a fascinating but baffling indigenous language. There are no extras, but if there were, who'd have time for them? Having plowed through this series for purposes of this review, I became convinced of one thing: this brilliant documentary cannot be properly absorbed without repeat viewings.
Covering such a large subject in such a (relatively) small amount of time surely leaves projects like The Story Of Wales open to criticisms about what should and shouldn't have been included. There's also the validity of certain historical perspectives versus others, to which I add my own two pence here.
First, I understand and appreciate the use of CGI to show geographical transformations of the region over the centuries, but I simply cannot abide these slow-motion, smoke and fog-filtered "dramatic reconstructions" of stone-age, medieval, and other ancient peoples; ostensibly to give viewers a sense of what these pre-photographic folks and times actually looked like. These stupid exercises never actually look like anything more than cross-sections of contemporary, over-costumed extras playing dress up. This is precisely the stuff that drove me away from the History Channel!
Secondly, I can do with a bit less footage of Gareth Williams scoring 1970s soccer wins (never mind the "historical" examination of the Welsh soccer phenomenon, over pints of ale, no less!), in order to allow for mentioning some of Wales' other distinctive twentieth century superstars, including poet Dylan Thomas, fashion designer Mary Quant, and actors Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, and Catherine Zeta Jones. There's a blink-and-you'll miss it nod to rock and roll emerging in 1955, with a shout-out to singer Shirley Bassey (?!), but what of Mary Hopkin, Tom Jones, or the band Super Furry Animals, who took advantage of their massive UK success by putting out the first rate Welsh language album "Mwng" in 2000?
But that's a conversation (or documentary) for another day. In the meantime, The Story Of Wales will have to do, and it does!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BFS Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 354 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated