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British Empire in Color, The (DVD Review)

27 Apr, 2008 By: John Latchem

Street 4/29/08
$24.99 DVD
Not rated.
Narrated by Art Malik.

Though its title suggests a high-minded political farce, The British Empire in Color is actually a serious depiction of the final years of British imperialism.

The story is told entirely through narration over color film culled from various archives, and accompanied by beautiful, haunting music by Chris Elliot. The program is the third installment in a series of British television specials that previously focused on Britain's role in World War II. The remarkable footage dates back to 1926, as Britain recovers from World War I, and runs through the turnover of Hong Kong in 1997. The footage has been meticulously restored, as documented in a making-of featurette.

While the British Empire brought progress and education to its territories, it also brought prejudice and a legacy of racial resentment. Indigenous populations have all but been supplanted by generations of white settlers. None of the lasting effects of empire are as far-reaching as Britain's botched attempts to regulate Jewish settlement in the Middle East.

Britain's greatest holding, India, earned independence in 1947, and colonies in Africa had become hugely expensive to maintain by the 1950s. A 1956 attempt to hold onto the Suez Canal against Egyptian claims resulted in embarrassment when Britain was forced to retreat after the United States refused to intervene. By then, Britain's imperial might was all but gone, and by the end of the 1960s most of its African colonies, such as Kenya, had gained independence.

On a fundamental level, many of these struggles are not unlike American efforts to shake British rule more than 200 years ago. Anyone interested in history should see this DVD.

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