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Case Number 25993: Small Claims Court

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Secrets of Althorp: The Spencers

PBS // 2012 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dawn Hunt // July 21st, 2013

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All Rise...

Judge Dawn Hunt's house has secrets such as Where does all the dust come from?

The Charge

Come tour the childhood home of Princess Diana.

The Case

The premise of Secrets of Althorp: The Spencers sounds a bit boring on paper. Charles Edward Maurice Spencer, the ninth Earl of Spencer, invites the audience on a tour of Althorp House. At first glance, it appears as though we are about to follow a docent through a guided tour, listening to a monotonous voice drone on and on. It's not that at all.

What is the significance of Althorp House? It's the Spencer family home and childhood home of Diana, Princess of Wales. That's what initially draws the viewer in, the chance to see inside this part of such a beloved public figure's life. Indeed, the late Princess Diana is the personage who bookends the show. However, Secrets of Althorp: The Spencers is about much more than recounting the childhood of one of our generation's most beloved celebrities.

We move in and out of the house, breathing life and a sense of movement into what could be a very dull piece. Less of an emphasis is placed on specific furnishings within the house; rather the idea is to engage the audience in a visual history of the Spencer family. Instead of a simple narration as we travel from room to room, we are treated to portraits, photographs, archival film, letters, and more as history is brought to life before our eyes.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the program is its obvious leanings toward an American audience. Care is taken to site a historical connection to George Washington and comparisons to the Kennedys are made as well. It's an extremely savvy move I didn't expect, and it adds an additional resonance for Americans watching. The short runtime of less than an hour means we must move quickly through the house and grounds, and we do, with lots of information packed into the show. Everyone who talks about Althorp has an obvious affection and connection to the house and they breathe much-welcomed humanity into Secrets of Althorp House: The Spencers. It's a brief glimpse into a world we cannot hope to experience, and it's an informative ride.

The 2.40:1 aspect ratio was chosen to highlight the aerial photography as well as the various landscape shots. Althorp House sits on 14,000-plus acres so it's a good ratio to use. The visuals have an occasional background flicker, nothing too terrible, and the white levels are blown out when shooting open windows. However, the light values change within the rooms so it can't be helped. The show features various orchestral pieces as a score and the Dolby 2.0 Stereo track provides a technically sufficient if not overly strong stream for the audio. It holds up well to outdoor interviews and there isn't interference from wind or the like. There are no special features.

Princess Diana and English aristocratic history buffs will likely be the only ones who consider purchasing Secrets of Althorp: The Spencers. For those who enjoy touring historic homes and have a love of the English countryside, a streaming would not be amiss.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 83

Perp Profile

Studio: PBS
Video Formats:
• 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Foreign
• Historical
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb: Earl Charles Spencer

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