Friday, 25 September 2015

The Face Of Britain

Simon Schama on how portraiture has changed

Written by Ben Felsenburg
Ben-Felsenburg-colour-176His face slightly florid, his features finely poised between the noble and the comic in their constant state of elastic animation, Simon Schama is a caricaturist’s dream. Which, along with his gift for rendering scholarly study highly palatable, makes the historian the ideal presenter for The Face Of Britain (Wednesday, BBC Two, 9pm).

Accompanied by a book and an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Schama’s five-part series will look at love, fame, the self-portrait, and ordinary people. But we begin with the face of power throughout the ages, from the careful image through which Elizabeth I presented herself as the Virgin Queen to the world, to thoroughly modern media management, which turned Margaret Thatcher into an imperious premier.

Back in the 18th century, they didn’t have sports cars and yachts, so the way to say you’d made it was a full-length painting in oils of yours truly to adorn the drawing room of your country pile. For the wealthy and powerful, the flipside was being the target for the lampooning of Cruikshank and Gillray.

Occasionally Schama may fall into prolix excess, but that’s a small price to pay for his captivating turns of phrase and perspicacity. He gives us images that lack the immediacy we’ve all now become accustomed to, but you’d fancy they’ll leave a longer-lasting legacy than Instagram and selfies.



Strictly Come Dancing Fri, BBC, 9pm
Let battle commence: the series proper gets under way, with the first six couples making their debut.

First Humans: The Cave Discovery Sun, C4, 7pm
How the remains of our unimaginably ancient ancestors were dramatically discovered in South Africa.

Cider With Rosie Sun, BBC1, 8.30pm
Samantha Morton stars in an adaptation of Laurie Lee’s classic memoir of growing up in the Cotswolds. Timothy Spall narrates.

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