Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

This Sceptred Isle - Empire

In the gaps between Doctor Who audios for the last couple of months, I've been listening to "This Sceptred Isle - Empire", a series of 90 short radio programmes about the history of the British Empire, narrated by Juliet Stevenson with additional voice work by Christopher Ecclestone, Anna Massey, Jack Davenport, and others, a sequel to the earlier This Sceptred Isle which dealt with the history of Britain in the same way.

I was a bit underwhelmed, to be honest. I suspect that the subject is too big to treat in this way; I had picked it up in the first place to listen to the bits about Ireland, which for the earlier period were fairly decent, but rather tailed off towards the end (Irish history apparently stopped in 1916), and the other ex-colonies I've dealt with professionally (Cyprus, Somaliland) were barely mentioned. The focus of the narrative was generally, though not always, on the effect that the colonies and colonised had on the British rather than the other way round. I was particularly frustrated by the sections about Warren Hastings, which lionised him as an innocent hero without making it terribly clear why he was anything more than a venal administrator set up by rivals in office politics who played hardball. Macaulay was much clearer (if more long-winded), but I missed really any Indian account of whether Hastings was any good.

There are also serious limitations to the straight narrative-with-actors style. Probably if I'd been listening to it at a rate of one instalment every day or so, rather than in bursts of several at a time, it might not have irritated me as much. But I've now started the more recent and excellent History Of The World In 100 Objects, and I'm stunned by how dull the format of Scepterd Isle is, in comparison. It would hardly have killed the producers to include, like, music, or even original sound tracks in the later period when they become available.

So, all in all, not really recommended listening.

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