‘Treasure Houses of Britain’ goes into the world of ‘Downton Abbey’

For those looking to jump beyond the fictional world of Downton Abbey, there are great historical joys in Treasure Houses of Britain, now available on DVD from Athena.

The five episodes compiled for this two-disc set are a treasure trove of details on some of the most impressive British estates that are kept in tip-top shape so many years after they were built. Journalist Selina Scott takes us beyond the ornate doors and windows and into museum-like living rooms, bedrooms and dining rooms. Everything is rich in detail, featuring a host of styles and influences. There are individual chairs that look more expensive than most houses. The ceilings, the tables, the paintings, the architecture is almost too much to handle. This is the definition of beautiful.

The series, which focuses on a new house each episode, is best reserved for those viewers who are unable to cross the Pond and experience the splendor of these riches in person. Still, even without us actually walking these rooms, Scott and her team of camera operators is able to capture all of the nooks and crannies around each corner. The vibrant colors still pulsate through the camera lens. There are many gifts from famous nobility and several pieces that tie right into the monarchy of the times.

Choral and classical music help to tie everything together, adding a little dreaminess to every shot.

The included houses on the DVD are Burghley, Chatsworth, Blenheim Palace, Holkham Hall and Boughton House (from the 15th to 17th centuries). We meet the families who still run each estate, plus a network of experts who fill in the historical blanks. Cameras don’t simply rest on the insides of the houses either. We receive full panoramic views of the grounds, including the undulating hills of the British countryside, livestock and beautiful gardens.

The perspective taken by Treasure Houses of Britain is decisively historical. Pieces of ornate art, including sculptures, portraits and furniture, are admired for how they fit into the history books. In many ways, Scott deconstructs how the estate has evolved through the years.

Because everything focuses on the history/heritage aspect, the asides about the personal stories of the current occupants seem off-topic. With so much to see in so little time, do we really care about the difficulties these families endure after moving into the estates? I’d love to have their problems.

The episodes fly by, and sometimes it can be frustrating to move on to the next room when there’s still so much to explore in the previous one. Each episode offers a holistic look at the house, but it’s a quick view. There’s no lingering and everything feels slightly cursory and rushed. If anything, the series serves as a great brochure inviting viewers to book a trip to England and enjoy each house in the flesh. There are so many wonders in these real-life Downton Abbeys that a visit seems positively necessary.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Treasure Houses of Britain

  • 5 episodes

  • Running time: 231 minutes

  • Not Rated

  • Rating: ★★★½

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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