DVD Review: Treasure Houses of Britain
Country: United States
Release Date: May 15, 2012
Distributor: Acorn Media
· Athena Learning
by Marianne Paluso
Published: June 19, 2012
Treasure Houses of Britain (a 2 disc, 5 episode set) is a fascinating series that explores some of the grandest and most beautiful estates all across the English countryside. Like living breathing museums, these are also homes. They just hold the unique quality of being open to the public. In each episode host Selina Scott takes us on a tour of each home including Burghley House, Chatsworth, Blenheim Palace, Holkham Hall, and Boughton House, speaking with the residents and local historians about the history, the architecture, and the extraordinary treasures found within.
Though each home is glorious in its own right, each episode is not made equally with some being more captivating than others. The two best are “Burghley House” and “Chatsworth” which showcase equally the grand vistas of their interiors and exterior grounds, their histories, and the specific gems each home possesses. Burghley House, located in Lincolnshire is known as “England greatest Elizabethan Home” and features both Baroque and Italian inspired architecture, as well as large murals of “Heaven” and “Hell” which almost appear to be three-dimensional. The home is run by its creator Sir William Cecil’s descendant Miranda, who lives there with husband Orlando and their three children. When looking down on a garden area you can even view children’s toys sporadically throughout, an endearing juxtaposition of the modern and classic beauty the pristinely manicured. Meanwhile, the equally splendid Chatsworth is known as the greatest garden of Derbyshire and holds the distinction allowing visitors since its completion in the 18th century. Scott sheds light on some divine treasures including rooms commissioned for a King who never visited, a sculpture gallery, a private theater which was originally a ballroom, and a fountain powered strictly by gravity, an amazing combination of beauty and ingenuity. Chatsworth perhaps is also the most recognizable estate as it was used as Mr. Darcy’s home in the 2005 version of “Pride and Prejudice.”
The remaining episodes, though interesting do not hold up as well, but still do provide us with some fascinating pieces of history. For instance we learn in “Blenheim Palace” that this was the birthplace and favorite spot of Winston Churchill. He is also buried there along with his wife, whom he proposed to in one of the gardens. “Holkham Hall” is home to one of the finest marble halls in England fashioned after the temples of Rome, while “Boughton House,” also known as the English Versailles, is the home to a practically unmatched collection of art from such artists as Flemish master Anthony Van Dyck. Rounding out the 5 episodes are a thorough making of featurette that showcases the challenges of filming these stately homes, and the thought process behind what producers choose to discuss, and “Behind the Architectural Styles,” a brief read along guide to each home.
Treasure Houses of Britain bears a striking resemblance to another series I loved Treasures of the Trust, and is a must see for the lover of all things British including their history, as well as classical architecture. There are some flaws, however. Individual items are often the focus as opposed to the home as a whole. And while these pieces are interesting, a look at more of each house would have been better. And at times, the history takes precedent, which can be a bit confusing and dare I say boring for some. Each home is indeed gloriously photographed, particularly the exteriors of the estates and their surrounding gardens. But quite unusual, the episodes often spend a great deal of time on these types of shots, with a grand musical score and no narration. While this is nice at first, the novelty wears off fast and at times it seems as if these shots are acting as filler. This can leave the viewer wanting more. Each episode also ends with host Scott departing the home in a town car while the music reaches a great crescendo of choral voices. This goes on longer than it should and the combination of these elements left me a bit perplexed. Regardless of these flaws, Treasure Houses of Britain is an endlessly beautiful look at some of the England’s finest, and indeed the world’s, most glorious homes.