Judge P.S. Colbert admits he would follow Michael Wood anywhere, but swears they're "just good friends."
"This is the story of one place through the whole of English history."—Michael Wood
You see what he did there? By centralizing his focus on the village of Kibworth, and leaving out that most definitive of definitive articles; author, presenter, and historian Michael Wood has constructed an air-tight defense against those who'd argue his "Story" suffers from omissions.
PBS viewers got a truncated version of this BBC mini-series, but this new DVD release features the complete Michael Wood's Story Of England, spread over two discs, with three episodes apiece:
• "Romans to Normans"
Kibworth lies in the Harborough district of the County Leicestershire, and comprises three hamlets: Kibworth Beauchamp (or Lower Kibworth), Kibworth Harcourt (Upper Kibworth), and Smeeton Westerby.
"In this one place, you can tell the whole story of the nation," Wood says. "You can watch the great events of the nation through local eyes."
But why choose Kibworth? According to our expert host: "Kibworth is right in the centre of the country and, from the 1200s, it's got the most wonderful set of documents that enable you to tell the story of ordinary people's lives." Fortunately, these documents have been well-preserved by archivists at Merton College, Oxford, varying from official accounts in newspapers and the reports of local reeves, to diaries and other personal papers.
"We're not just talking about one literate man every 20 miles," commented one Merton historian. "They're all over the place and they're writing and they're writing and they're writing!"
All the better for injecting a provincial flavor into the telling, and corresponding with Wood's assertion that "It's not the tale of the rulers, but of the ordinary people," that separates this from so many other history lessons; sparing us from yet another collegiate lecture.
Indeed, Wood literally takes a village and engages them in the narration. Locals read from the archived papers (sometimes written by their own ancestors centuries earlier), and most amazingly, some 250 Kibbers volunteer to dig more than fifty archaeological test pits throughout the hamlets, often in their own backyards, in some cases yielding treasures buried for hundreds of years. A bone comb from the Anglo Saxon period for you, Guv?
You won't find a better tour guide than Michael Wood. Bursting onto the televised scene in the 1970s, the young chronicler with his rock star looks made an immediate impact on female students in particular, who dubbed him "the thinking woman's crumpet." Thirty years and more than eighty documentaries later, Wood has aged well, losing none of his energy or enthusiasm. While he gives the proper gravity to dealing with famine, the Black Plague, or casualty reports from the World Wars, Wood more often conveys the demeanor of a kid in a candy store; and the effect is contagious.
BBC has done a jolly good job with the (standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen) sights and (Dolby 2.0 stereo) sounds; most fitting for a program you'll no doubt want to revisit to fully reap its rewards. English subtitles are a bonus, but there are no extras. Then again, looking for extras in as comprehensive a set as this is like asking for a dessert that you'll never be able to finish.
With its casserole of modern conveniences and deep historic roots (many of them architectural), not to mention its sense of close-knit community, Kibworth seems not only a nice place to visit, but also a wonderful place to live.
Not Guilty, by royal decree of his midwestern majesty.
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