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Simon Schama explores the history of British portraiture, revealing the stories behind the most compelling images in British art and examining the ways portraiture is used to make a statement.

Genres: History
Station: BBC Two (GB)
Rating: 0/10 from 0 users
Status: Ended
Start: 2015-09-30

Face of Britain by Simon Schama Season 1 Air Dates

S01E01 - The Face of Power Air Date: 30 September 2015 21:00 -

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In the first episode in the series, Simon Schama explores the eternal power of portraiture. Before we can walk, before we can talk, we become readers of faces, and throughout our lives face reading helps us to navigate the world. This primal engagement with the face makes portraiture one of the most compelling forms of art. Beginning with an exploration of how a portrait, commissioned to celebrate Winston Churchill's 80th birthday, ended in disaster for both artist and sitter, Schama discovers how portraits can involve a battle for control and - from the destruction of the faces of Christ and the Virgin during the Reformation, to Elizabeth I's fabulous feats of image making - demonstrates the importance of portraiture in fostering loyalty. Schama shows how royalists and parliamentarians fought over the image of the executed Charles I during the Civil War and how the aristocracy used portraiture to assert their dominion over the realm in the 18th century. Through the pioneering political cartoons of James Gillray, he explores how the powerful lost control of their image to the snigger of the streets. Simon looks at how photography allowed Queen Victoria to rebrand the monarchy as a modern family and discusses the role Margaret Thatcher's rigid control of her image played in launching her political career.

S01E02 - Faces of the People Air Date: 07 October 2015 21:00 -

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Simon Schama looks at the rogue strain of British portraiture, made up of artists who have plunged into the crowd and given us the faces of the people. While most portraits have been of the great and the good who pay to be flattered, this film looks at artists who have taken all of humanity as their subject. Starting with the captivating portraits of street photographer Charlie Phillips, who captured the world behind the headlines in 1960s Notting Hill, Schama explores how every face has its own story to tell. From William Hogarth's blockbuster portrayals of the scruffs and scumbags of the London streets to Edinburgh barber John Kay's witty observations of the world outside his window, he explores how artists have fed our appetite to look into each other's lives and created images of people who would otherwise have been forgotten. From simple silhouette to the heroic grandeur of Ford Madox Brown's work, an altarpiece to the working man, Schama explores why artists have felt compelled to depict the faces of the people. He'll study the work of pioneering photographers David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson in the fishing village of Newhaven and show how the suffragette rampage against the nation's art galleries unleashed the dark side of photography. He examines how Henry Tonks's portraits of disfigured soldiers in World War One helped remake their shattered faces and broke all the rules regarding who should and who shouldn't be depicted in art. The film ends with the work of the Singh Twins, artists working today in Liverpool who are keeping the unruly tradition of people's portraiture brilliantly alive, and giving us the true faces of Britain.

S01E03 - The Face of Fame Air Date: 14 October 2015 21:00 -

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Simon Schama looks at portraits of the famous and investigates what the celebrated faces of Britain's past and present tell us about our national character. From images of our first national hero - the pirate Francis Drake - to iconic photographs of Princess Diana, he explores the popular craving for larger than life characters to populate our national story. Simon studies the fine line between fame and celebrity, visiting the country house of Stowe to see our first national portrait gallery of greats, and explores how actor David Garrick used his image to become our first genuine star of the stage. He shows how saucy depictions of 18th century pin-up Kitty Fisher made her a public sensation and George Romney's obsessive depictions of Emma Hart turned her into the most recognized woman in Britain, helping her win the heart of national hero Horatio Nelson. Schama explains how fears that industrial Britain was losing its soul inspired the formation of the National Portrait Gallery and how the invention of cigarette cards put portraits of the famous into the palms of our hands. He looks at how the seductive photographs of Cecil Beaton fed our desire to stare into the lives of the rich and famous, while the tragic fate of Princess Diana leads him to consider the dark side of our collective addiction to famous faces.

S01E04 - The Look of Love Air Date: 21 October 2015 21:00 -

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Simon Schama explores how love portraits allow us to fulfil our craving to keep the ones we love close to us. By fixing their faces in time, we can defy separation, distance, time, even death. Beginning with the extraordinary story of Sir Kenelm Digby's attempts to bring his beloved wife Venetia back to life through a series of breathtaking portraits, the film explores the images at the centre of some of our most compelling love stories - the portrait miniatures that were instrumental in the love affair between the Prince of Wales and Maria Fitzherbert, and Thomas Gainsborough's portrait of his daughters that reveals the power of art made for love not money. Schama will explore Charles Dodgson's, otherwise known as Lewis Carroll's, attempts to stop time in his photographs of Alice Liddell, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti's use of portraiture to possess Jane Morris, the wife of his business partner William Morris. Francis Bacon's posthumous portraits of his lover George Dyer and the final photograph of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, taken hours before his death, show the power of portraiture to immortalize love.

S01E05 - The Face in the Mirror Air Date: 28 October 2015 21:00 -

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In this film, Simon Schama explores the complex motivations behind some of our most intriguing self-portraits, looking at what they say about both the creative minds of the artists who produced them and the human condition. From Tracy Emin's bed, a relic of our confessional age, to Lucien Freud's searing examinations of his ageing body, the film will explore how all self-portraits stand on a knife edge between self-indulgence and self-scrutiny. Schama explores the daring first glimmers of self-portraiture in a 13th-century manuscript and how the incarceration of the artist Gerlach Flicke led to the creation of the first English self-portrait that looks us straight in the eye. He shows how the frustrated potential of artist Isaac Fuller led to a self-portrait of unprecedented poignancy and how the romantic imagination of Samuel Palmer created works of visionary beauty. Laura Knight's use of her own image to defy the male-dominated art establishment and William Orpen's painted search for his own identity during World War I reflect the complex motivations that have driven artists to make themselves the subject of their work. Visiting the hundreds of figures that make up Antony Gormley's monumental sculpture Another Place, Schama reflects on this collective self-portrait that inspires us all to contemplate our place in the world.

Face of Britain by Simon Schama Actors

Simon Schama(Presenter)

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