Margaret (pling) wrote,

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Seven Ages of Britain; Joanna Lumley's Nile

Decided to take a break from the Bettany Hughes season, and watch some slightly more fluffy television yesterday - J was feeling pretty tired & wasn't sure he'd stay awake otherwise ;)

So we started the evening with the next in David Dimbleby's Seven Ages of Britain series, The Age of Empire, which covered roughly from George III (Cook's voyages and US independence) through to Victoria's death and the beginning of the end of the Empire. I kind of forget how recently Australia was discovered by Europeans - late 1700s seems far too close to modern to be still finding great huge landmasses, if you see what I mean. A lot of the art we were shown was in the genre of pictures painted to show the people at home what these far flung places were like. So there were paintings from Cook's voyages showing the incredible scenery of the Pacific islands etc and later paintings from India showing sanitised & paler "suitable" images of the places there. And in that same genre, but from the other perspective, we were shown paintings on the houses of some Indian merchants from the time before the British presence in India went from trading partner to ruler. These had been done by local artists based on the descriptions of the merchants who'd actually seen the British and their technology, so weren't quite right - things like the fleshtones were pale-Indian skin, not European tones. And there was a painting of a train where the description had clearly involved "it's like a set of houses on wheels all in a long line" so that was what had been drawn.

The programme also touched on the more unpleasant sides of Empire - the stuff we were shown in Pennsylvania didn't neglect the fact that this land had originally been inhabited by Native Americans who were driven out by the incoming colonists despite paintings which tried to portray it as a trade between the tribes and the Europeans. It also pointed out that the loss of the American colony to independence lead to the brutality in the "policing" of the rest of the Empire - a determination not to be humiliated like that again. And we were shown how the art of the time mythologised this into the "brave heroes of the British army" putting down the "savage tribesmen" of Sudan (or wherever) rather than the reality of killing 11,000 Sudanese in one day with the newly invented machine guns (a figure I'd not known before, which is incredible in its brutality). And we were shown the palace the Governor of India built - stunningly beautiful, harking back to Roman and Greek architecture, but designed to inspire a feeling of the "obvious" superiority of the British and how they were clearly "meant to rule" India.

Our second programme of the evening was episode two of Joanna Lumley's Nile - where in a nice piece of synchronicity she travelled through Sudan. She started on an 18 hour boat trip across Lake Nasser, the biggest man made lake in the world, on which she was recognised as a Bond girl by some chap much to her surprise! They first travelled strictly along the Nile, trying to see some crocodiles and then visited a place we'd seen in the Lost Kingdoms of Africa series, Karima town. It had some of the tombs of the Nubian Pharaohs of Egypt - with their not-quite-right (by Egyptian standards) shaped pyramids, one of which she got to look inside. And the holy rock beside which the temple of Amun was built, which is still spiritually important to the people who live there today - who climb it every Friday to see the sun go down. They then took a short cut across the desert, visiting a family along the way who live in the middle of nowhere on their own. The oldest member of that family remembered the British from her youth - remembered how scared they were and how they'd run and hide when the troops came. I guess the next programme will start with Khartoum (where they didn't quite get this time) and continue on the Blue Nile for a bit? This is a series that's all about the entertainment of seeing faraway places and the people that live there - and Joanna Lumley is a good presenter for it I think, makes me laugh a lot with the things she says, but she does also make the best of it and just get on with even the stuff that's less pleasant.
Tags: africa, britain, history, india, tv

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