Judge David Johnson wishes his first name was "Fergal."
"The definitive 21st century account of Ireland's remarkable past."
The above tagline is stolen from the back of the DVD case and, while it's clearly horn-tooting, the sentiment is legit. The Story of Ireland, for those interested in such things, is about as good as it gets. This two-disc, five-episode release runs 294 minutes and is packed sideways with as much knowledge of the Emerald Isle and her rich history as you can possible want.
What I especially like about the feature is its resistance to the standard-issue game-plan of historical documentaries. Typically, you get a lot of panning still images, static interviews with talking heads, maybe even a re-enactment or two. Plus, the narrator is usually a disembodied voice, guiding the viewer through the content.
The Story of Ireland goes about its business differently. Presented by Fergal Keane, a BBC News correspondent who is obviously passionate about the material, our host is clear and present throughout; less a narrator and more a tour guide. From stop to stop, historical moment to historical moment, he offers the viewer insightful commentary that reflect a genuine interest. It may not sound like much, but it goes a long way. Similarly, when it comes to the requisite Smart Person Interviews, it's Keane sitting down for a face-to-face conversation with the interviewee. This gives The Story of Ireland an almost cinematic feel, elevating it from the usual educational productions you might see on PBS.
Content-wise, this set rich. You'll learn about Ireland's thorny relationship with England, the country's adoption of Christianity and the hugely impactful role that would play in later years, the Great Famine, the Good Friday Agreement, and…of course…the extensive IRA craziness.
All in all, The Story of Ireland is beautifully executed and comprehensively absorbing. Whether you're a buff of Ireland's evolution, or simply a sucker for a nation's history, this one is well-told.
The DVD set features no extras, but boasts an impressive technical treatment: a sharp standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, and a Dolby 2.0 stereo mix.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
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