If you want to make a historical documentary for the BBC, you must have a few essential ingredients. You need some good locations, preferably bourgeois ones, which the camera can pan to the accompaniment of period music - the factual equivalent of an effect characteristic of historical dramas. You need plenty of experts; if they have appeared in other historical documentaries, so much the better, as you can be sure they will say the right things. And you need the all-seeing presenter, who should be photographed in a variety of locations, either addressing comments direct to camera or walking across the frame up stairs, across historical sites or being photographed in crowded streets.
BOUGHT WITH LOVE contains all these familiar tropes. There are shots of Wilton House, the Banqueting House in Whitehall, and the National Gallery, as well as several close-ups of paintings by Van Dyck and Rubens, among others. Among the experts called to give testimony are Jerry Brotton (who has had his own series on the BBC), as well as sundry professors and museum curators. Presenter Helen Rosslyn talks direct to camera, waving her arms around expressively as she tells us the story of the earliest patrons of the arts in seventeenth century Britain who transformed the country from a cultural wasteland into one of the main centers of art collection and/or exchange.
Does the program tell us something that we don't know already? Partly yes. We learn about the Earl of Arundel whose philanthropic activities ensured the development of British art collections during the reign of Charles I. Yet there is an underlying ideological message about this episode, pointing to the survival of aristocratic values in a society apparently dedicated to egalitarianism. They can be seen in the expensive interiors of Wilton House and Arundel Castle, and in the treasures of the Royal Collection. We understand just how powerful those with family money can be.
To be honest, this viewer has become rather tired of documentary series that keep retreading familiar historical territory in an attempt to emphasize Britain's past glories. One yearns instead for more contemporaneous material.
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