I thought Simon Schama’s Power Of Art series was about the best television I’d ever seen when it screened a few years ago. This series was one of those rare successes in that it managed to be intellectual AND entertaining at the same time. I know, I was suprised too. I missed a few episodes and was appalled to find it unavailable on DVD when I looked a while back. The library has had the companion book for a while now, which is great, but certainly a lot more dry. I’m thrilled to report the library now holds copies of the full series on DVD, which has finally been made available.
For those that caught the series and know how good it was, here’s a chance to see it again. For those of you who missed it when it aired amidst the cathode-ray mediocrity, prepare to be delighted. Simon Schama first appeared on our screens presenting the almost-as-enthralling A History of Britain series and seems to be the BBC’s smarty-pants of the moment. The key to his success is the genuine passion and enthusiasm for the subject matter overflowing through his narration. This interest is infectious and enables Schama to present ‘boring’ topics in an accessible and entertaining manner. Schama is an historian, and is drawn to drama so he has carefully chosen works that represent powerful ideas and were produced by artists in the grip of some sort of historical or psychological crisis. This, of course, makes for compelling story telling. Purists may object that the biography and history overshadow the art at times, but to Schama they are one and the same.
The impassioned narration is broken up by re-enactments of historical episodes from the artist’s lives, which vary in effectiveness (Andy Serkis of Gollum fame is just as scary as a deranged Vincent van Gogh). Overall, the series is enthralling and highly recommended for appreciators of painting, history or drama. For those that don’t ‘get’ modern or abstract painting, I particularly recommend the Rothko installment, you’ll never look at a red square the same again!