Informative Yet Rather Over-Emphatic Chronicle of History Through Architecture
No one can fault writer/presenter Dan Cruickshank of lack of enthusiasm. He dominates the screen with his intense, confidential voice and his physical presence accentuated by a tendency to wave his arms about whenever he becomes excited. Yet he is not an obtrusive presence: what he has to say is often highly informative, suffused by an innate understanding of what viewers can take in at any one time.
Then what is it that makes his latest documentary effort rather unsatisfying? It is distinguished by several wonderful location shots of palaces ancient and modern, used by Cruickshank to illustrate his points about the interaction between politics and architecture. Perhaps unusually for a documentary of this nature, there are few opinions delivered by 'experts' of all shapes and hues; Cruickshank trusts in his ability to hold the audience's attention himself.
Nonetheless, I feel that sometimes his passion for architectural detail outweighs the visual evidence on offer. In other words, he delights in particular features of a building, whereas the building itself seems rather conventional, or in some cases fussy. This is particularly true of English Gothic architecture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which is often so preoccupied with details that they often overwhelm the design. There are some good examples - such as the Midland Hotel at London's St. Pancras Station, but there are plenty of other examples - palaces, churches, as well as domestic buildings - which seem ornate just for the sake of it. It would be good, for instance, if Cruickshank could point out the shortcomings as well as the advantages of the buildings he describes; not all of them are as brilliantly designed as he would have us believe.
BRITAIN'S GREAT PALACES is a highly informative series, and one which I am glad to have encountered. But I think it might have been improved if Cruickshank had adopted a more critical perspective.
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