April 5, 2009 -- Some of the most amazing achievements of the prehistoric cultures of the British Isles are on display in this unique, folksy, entertaining travelogue. Travel host Rupert Soskin (who has published a book with the same title) is quick to point out that he is no archaeologist and is not an expert on ancient cultures and that he is not giving viewers a history of stone age culture. What he is doing is visiting some of his favorite standing stones, stone rows, long barrows, cairns, cists and other monuments left behind by people up to 9,000 years ago. Some of these monuments are small and modest, while others are of astounding size and complexity, requiring armies of workers moving millions of tons of soil and rock to create. If you are planning to visit the British Isles to see some of these sights, or are just interested in prehistoric structures, you will find this beautifully-filmed DVD full of interesting, offbeat structures. The scenery is also breath-taking and the commentary is folksy, thought-provoking and entertaining.
Soskin starts his grand megalithic tour in the southernmost tip of England, Land's End, traveling northward into Wales, skipping over to Ireland, then to the Isle and Man, back to England, north to Scotland and ending up at the Orkney Islands where we see the fantastic standing stones of Callenish, among many others. This seems to be a tour of Soskin's favorite sites, based on many years of personal journeys and explorations. This is just a small sampling of the tens of thousands of such stone monuments in the British Isles and many of these sites are not well known, except to enthusiasts, experts and locals. The main film is over two hours long (136 minutes) but it can easily be seen in short segments that are nicely organized by geographical area and country. The DVD extras include writer/director commentaries, a writer/director interview, outtakes, extra footage, trailer and “making of” slide show. There are nearly three and three-quarters hours of extras. There are, however, no subtitles or closed captions for the hearing impaired on the disk. Some viewers will find it difficult to understand some of what Soskin says because of his pronounced accent.
Soskin has some interesting theories about the purposes of some of these sites. For instance, he theorizes that ancient manmade earth features similar to roads known as cursuses may have been used for races. He argues at some length that his theories could be as good as generally accepted theories because so little remains of these ancient cultures that even the best archaeologists are engaging in guesswork based on very scanty evidence. Soskin points out that future archaeologists digging up modern churches and sporting arenas might very well come to some completely wrong conclusions. He is probably right. Robert Nathan's book “The Weans” is a very humorous reminder that even the most careful archaeologists can make astounding blunders when interpreting the remains of ancient civilizations.
Along the way on his tour, Soskin points out how these ancient monuments have been preserved in some places, destroyed in others. In some places, like The Isle of Man, the ancient monuments are still in use by the government for official functions, a use which might be traced back beyond the dawn of history. He also notes that some of these structures were used for hundreds of years. Some may have been re-used or re-purposed. Some could have been placed long after their original meanings were forgotten. Many were converted to Christian sites during historical times. In some places these ancient standing stones have even been preserved as yard decorations. Soskin does not dwell on such well-known sites like Stonehenge, except to point out that it is part of a much larger complex of stone monuments and other structures extending many miles around. The Cerne Abbas Giant is only seen in the background of a few shots, almost as an afterthought, as Soskin drives on to his next destination on A352 in Dorset. He does pause briefly at the awe-inspiring Rudston Monument, nearly 26 feet tall, the tallest standing stone in England. The 40-ton stone was hauled at least 10 miles to be placed in its final resting place. A Christian church was later built next to the stone. Soskin spends some time talking about the astronomical orientation of a number of these sites. This film rates a B.
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