Coast and Beyond: Series 6 (TV) (Blu-ray)
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Acorn Media
Review written by and copyright: Jon Meakin (2nd August 2011).
The Film

Coast is a BBC documentary series that explores the coastlines of the British Isles and a good portion of Europe. A team of knowledgeable presenters give us a travelogue and interview local people to understand the history and traditions of their area, how they live and work with the sea, and highlight any key events or places. Each instalment normally features an eclectic mix of three or four different stories of that area and the snappy professional style is always thorough, but quick. So there should be something for everyone. If youíre not too interested in, say, brick making in Bruges, give it ten minutes and they will be onto something new, like Shetland Ponies. Not in the same episode though; they arenít so quick that they can cover Belgium and the Scottish Isles in under an hour!

Nick Crane is the enthusiastic, slightly nerdy in a good way, host of each episode and he is supported by a variety of regular experts who pick up their specialist subject on each show where required, including Anthropologist Dr. Alice Roberts or historian Neil Oliver. While the segments with those two were often my favourites, there are several more presenters and are all excellent, like Mark Horton who brings a dash of well-placed sentimental nostalgia. Itís refreshing to see them supported by classic documentary setups that let the subject speak for themselves. So we get archive footage, aerial photography and a few graphics, but no flashy editing or embarrassing reconstructions. Just solid information delivered with passion.

The six episodes of series six cover London (including the story of when Hitler snuck the German Navy past Dover); Belgium (with horseback shrimp fishing!); Devon and Cornwall (mining and the ďPuffing DevilĒ, followed by a trip to the Scilly Isles and a unique fish and chip shop); The Netherlands (whose incredible flood control and man-made coast may be in the UKís future); the Scottish Isles (wonderful section on island communities and Shetland in particular); Wales (fascinating interview with Ugandan refugees); and finally ending up in beautiful Sweden and The Baltic, which have surprising similarities to the Scottish Highlands.

What they are best at is uncovering a little known angle of wherever they are, without appearing niche or like they are looking for oddballs. If occasionally eccentric (Wales being used as a substitute for Mars to test Bridget the robot!), it is only slightly so. This is real, daily life and it runs the gamut of emotions, particularly the sad story of the HMS Iolaire shipwrecked of the Isle of Lewis (those on board were coming home from WWI and most were killed in a cruel twist of fate).

Some might criticise Coast for being too passive and not challenging or commentating on what they find (Nick only acknowledges the controversy about seabird hunting, for instance), but I think their pride in what they do is inspirational and they treat all subjects with respect.

Video

The photography is stunning in every episode, brought to life on 1080P Blu-ray with a full 16:9 ratio, with sweeping vistas that will frequently make your jaw drop. Sometimes you might feel they are going too fast, but this sort of series is what your pause button was invented for! I particularly loved the shots of the ferry to the Scilly Isles or Fingalís Cave in the Hebrides. And while the gorgeous blue skies are something to behold, it wouldnít be a British coast without rain! If anything the rain lashed shots of Shetland were my stand-out moments and definitive proof of the high-definition quality. There is occasional use of archive footage, but also computer graphics, recreating RAF flight-paths, for instance, and these are good quality too. Itís often an area skimped on, taking you out of the subject, but these are well done.

Audio

Audio, like video, is perfect quality. Speech is obviously the most important element and itís dead centre and clear all the time. The only thing that lets it down on the production is the overuse of random snippets of music tracks, which on rare occasions could be intrusive. Itís a small gripe though. English subtitles are included and are selectable.

Extras

No extras, except a photo gallery on each of the two discs. This isnít the sort of release that demands extras, except Iíve occasionally seen a short version of Coast that pops up between programmes on BBC2. It seems a shame these segments arenít included. Also a making of section such as that which the BBC includes on the end of some of their wildlife programmes might have been interesting. Finally, one other small gripe is the chapter stops. They are generous but the menu implies they neatly divide the subjects, which would be useful to skip through sections when re-watching for something specific. In practice they fail to be so neat, so without further checking I canít advise the skip function can be used with confidence.

Overall

Coast is typical of the BBCís staple programming for decades, so much so we probably take them for granted in the UK. They easily and succinctly introduce us to a side of life right under our nose that we may not have considered, even when the people they uncover are shown to quietly influence us daily. And of course high-definition brings it to a breath-taking standard. Well worth the licence fee and the Blu-ray release is an ideal opportunity to enjoy it at leisure.

The Film: A Video: A+ Audio: B+ Extras: E Overall: A

 


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