Westminster Abbey: Review

Westminster Abbey

Friday December 7, 9pm, BBC2.

There have been a couple of documentaries in recent weeks about the world of the privileged few. First we had the abysmal ‘Aristocrats’ which failed to give any real insight into the world of Blenheim Palace and the Duke Of Marlborough choosing instead to just give us a tour of the ground and how a look at how they run the gift shop.

Earlier this week we had a peek behind the famously closed doors of Claridge’s. Once again the film makers eschewed the opportunity to produce an interesting programme that could have presented the hotel’s history alongside the day to day running of the place.

What we actually got was little more than the cataloguing of astronomical sums and a crash course in ‘How to be Truly Obsequious in the Presence of the Filthy Rich’ (how another reviewer could refer to this dross as “exquisiteâ€? is beyond me).

The timing of these programmes in the “current financial climateâ€? is remarkable; I can’t work out if they are being broadcast so we can enjoy their lifestyle vicariously, be reminded of some mythical British past to help keep us in line or just to rub our faces in what we don’t have.

Now we have Westminster Abbey added to the mix.

Westminster Abbey though not quite in the same league as Claridge’s or Blenheim Palace when it comes to luxury or ostentatiousness, is still very much part of the privileged establishment and plays host to all manner of Society events including Royal Weddings.

However, unlike the aforementioned icons of aristocracy and mega money, Westminster Abbey offers something quite different. As far as modern, dumbed down documentary film making goes it can hold its head up high in so far as it does educate and it does entertain.

The opening episode divides it’s attention between helping us understand the history of the building and illustrating how it functions in the modern world.

Through the words of The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, Dean of the Abbey we discover the importance of Westminster in the religious, social and political structure of Britain. How it was saved from the ransacking of Churches during Henry VIII’s Reformation and its location as the original home of the House of Commons.

We are treated to a behind the scenes tour of the Abbey’s design by architect Ptolemy Dean and meet the small team of people charged with its upkeep; all of whom seem genuinely enchanted with the place and very proud to work there.

This content on its own would make for fascinating and nutritious viewing, but the producers go further and break it up with its unusual daily toing’s and froing’s. We meet the boys of the internationally renowned Choir School and the competition between them to get the big solos at major performances and preparations necessary for events like the Common Wealth Observance.

An excellent and well rendered show depicting an ancient yet still vital monument, full of insight and interesting people talking about something they love. Even the cameo of our beloved Prime Minister did little to diminish my enjoyment of this eye opening doc.