One of the main jobs of a documentary is to provide new insights on a subject. What is the point of treading old ground (unless the lessons have not been learned)? The plethora of art that has depicted and dissected Britain is numerous in volume ad quality, but more is always welcome. Learning about our country can help to make it better on micro- and macrocosmic levels, perhaps. Greater understanding is the very foundation of a documentary.
BRITAIN FROM ABOVE definitely provides unique illuminations on our green and pleasant land, which also could really only be fully realised on a visual medium such as television or film (as opposed to say literature). Think of Peter Jackson’s “god’s eye” camera-work in LORD OF THE RINGS, zoom out further, and you’ll get an idea of how the makers have approached tackling a country. This documentary series (three one hour and three half hour episodes) gives a new perspective on Britain, attempting to put our everyday lives into the context of a nation. No mean feat. While giving a great overview, sometimes further detail would make the project more satisfying. It is apolitical, so while giving the cut and thrust of nature’s driving forces, it lacks a willingness to analyse human motivations; though that would probably require three times as long to convey (at least)!
Not only is there substance, there is style in abundance. Those who like their shots looking down (like the original GRAND THEFT AUTO), will love this. If the camera can be mounted on something high-up it looks like it has done: parachutes, helicopters, lots of planes, cranes and peering through windowpanes. Playing with photography speeds, Andrew Marr’s enthusiastic narration and a beautiful, compelling score all compliment the spectacular visuals.
The one glaring observation that comes across from these four and a half hours is a disconcerting contradiction: Britain seems to be hugely controlled and cultivated, while simultaneously on the verge of total chaos. Oh yeah, and who knew that computer-controlled GPS-guided combine harvesters exist?