"Treasure Houses of Britain" presents a simple enough and well-intentioned premise to viewers. Spend five, roughly 45-minute episodes exploring notable historical houses of Britain and in the process treat viewers to amazing, often decadent visuals, while employing host Selina Scott to inform viewers on not only the basics of each house, but appropriate historical and technical context where necessary. If you are old enough to remember it, the premise might recall distant memories of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous." Fortunately, the series never sinks to the depths of being as tacky as that aged relic, but two episodes in, it quickly becomes apparent, even a modicum of spirit and vibrancy would make this very poorly paced series more easy to digest.
Beginning with "Burghley House" the series establishes a pattern it follows to completion: take viewers through the home, discuss the home's history, it's unique features, and where applicable notable pieces of décor; happening simultaneously, is the series' one saving grace: it's ability and willingness to not just offer fleeting glimpses of these exquisite and historical homes, but to give the truly outstanding aspects a moment in the spotlight. The homes are wisely chosen, with "Burghley House" demonstrating its obvious wide appeal by being chosen by Hollywood for shooting key sequences of "Pride and Prejudice," as well as "The Da Vinci Code."
Also appearing in "Pride and Prejudice" as well as "The Duchess" and the stylish but intellectually devoid remake of "The Wolfman," "Chatsworth House" is the focal point of the second episode. Here we see the beauty isn't restricted to the houses themselves, but also their grounds as made evident by this estate's breathtaking gardens. Unfortunately, it's in the second episode where viewers begin to see the visuals are the main attraction, with the actual presentation growing quickly tedious and dull. "Blenheim Palace" doesn't fare any better, as do "Holkham Hall" and "Boughton House," the series' remaining episodes. The visuals are the solitary thread keeping the whole series from falling apart and truth be told, it's enough at least for one viewing to make up for a truly forgettable presentation.
The 45-minute runtime appears to be the double-edged sword of the series. It's not enough time to go into all the fascinating historical details, but is too much for what is presented. In hindsight, while the presentation is dull, the producers of the series never cheap the importances of these homes with gaudy sensationalism, but even with a strong will towards reverence, "Treasure Houses of Britain" could have been a little livelier. The final thought that remains, is perhaps to an American viewer such as myself, the lack of historical context does rob me of another layer. I'll fully admit, I've seen similar programs highlighting the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright that assume prior knowledge and found those engaging. "Treasure Houses of Britain" is a perfectly reasonable series to give a view, provided you enter fully prepared for a nearly four-hour visually led journey.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen video is for the most, part a solid presentation. For as colorful as many of the homes featured appear to be, the actual coloring of the program is a tad off of natural tones. Detail is above average, however, some minor compression artifacts make their way to the visible eye. Given the dry nature of the program, one would think this should be a flawless transfer, but alas it is not.
The English stereo audio track is perfectly fine for the nature of the program. Dialogue is crisp and clear, without a line of narration coming off as muddle or buried beneath natural effects or backing score. English SDH subtitles included.
On both discs, a text based "Behind the Architectural Styles" feature is present, shedding more light on the technical aspects of each home. Disc two also features the 20-odd minute making-of special titled "How We Did It." Last but not least a brief printed booklet adds a few eleventh hour details for viewers still wanting to know more.
While fairly visually stimulating and insightful at times, "Treasure Houses of Britain" is just too long and tedious to be an effective series. The technical presentation while strong should have been spotless to make up for shortcomings of the narrative aspect of the series and that is an additional disappointment with this set. Rent It.