'Michael Wood's Story of England' review: Brilliant and congenial
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WHAT IT'S ABOUT Kibworth, a hamlet in England's Midlands, is really the star of this four-hour social history of an entire nation. Kibworth -- 101 miles north of London, just to the southeast of Leicester -- was selected by English historian and broadcaster Michael Wood because it lies at the geographic center of England, and from this point of the compass all of English history -- or at least social history -- is reflected (he argues). Wood enlists the townspeople in his search for the past, and that's essential because Kibworth isn't mentioned anywhere before the Domesday Book, William the Conqueror's 1086 survey of his new backyard. They dig pits, and from these, the past emerges -- bits of pottery and whatnot that begin to tell the story of a nearby Roman villa. The first hour covers the first 1,000 years, the second, the peasant revolt against the Norman invaders and the Black Death.
MY SAY Just to put this in strictly parochial terms, imagine if Wood decided to tell the story of Long Island based on Hauppauge and Hauppauge alone. Great choice, Mike, you say. After all, this is the center of the island, and island life and culture is certainly reflected here.
But after an hour or so, you start to chaff. Couldn't he just head down to Brentwood for a minute? (or "my aunt in Mineola is complaining that you ignored Nassau."). And surely landlocked Hauppauge has nothing to do with the baymen. You get the somewhat belabored idea: Enough with Kibworth already. Yet . . . this succeeds, and largely because of Wood, a superb historian and quite possibly TV's best tour guide. He is brilliant, congenial and boundlessly enthusiastic -- in a rumpled sort of English schoolmaster way.
After unraveling a long explanation about place names, for example, he ends with this: "Isn't that wonderful?!" Well, yes, come to think of it: That was.
BOTTOM LINE Too much Kibworth -- lovely place though it is -- and not enough of the rest of this glorious land. But Wood easily makes up for that. (First hour is best, by the way.)