Fascinating ventures into the personal past
Label: Acorn Media UK
Time: 3 discs / 528 mins
Even though I am no fan of celebrity culture, I still find these episodes of personal ancestry consistently absorbing. Maybe it is because the back stories are genuinely interesting and maybe because it is usually the ancestors, rather than the celebrities, who lead each story.
That’s not to say that the celebrities get in the way: actress Dervla Kirwan is usually an enjoyable screen presence and it is fascinating to get a glimpse of the real people behind such a familiar face as Bruce Forsyth.
Then only thing that distracts me from being lost in the stories is the nagging question, “How much of these explorations are genuine and how much re-creations?” – although the occasional daft question (from Rupert Everett, for example) suggests that some of the moments when the stars are presented with new information are the real thing.
There are some great events here: discoveries of bigamy in the family, adventures across oceans, meeting relatives who had not known of each other before and historical stories of espionage and innovation.
Some episodes work best first time, watching the celebrity discover their past, but others – like Kirwan’s – would be worth a repeat look. One of her ancestors was involved in key moments of the IRA’s fight against the British.
Gardener Monty Don is lucky – he has two separate back stories, one of which shows that he is descended from the Keiller family company, who invented marmalade as we know it now, and one which features a mysterious pastor.
The pastor has an intriguing personal situation that ends tragically, as a monument still standing testifies. And it is the surprising links with history that make one wonder whether ‘greatness’ – or at least the go-for-it attitude that made these personalities famous – runs in families.
Alexander Armstrong ends his episode by saying that he found the discoveries “absolutely thrilling.” They are, but I will give no spoiler here. Alright then, just a hint: it includes two separate exhumations, one for murder and another for scientific purposes – and his line goes very, very far back…
All this is from just six episodes of the nine included. There is now a box set of the whole seven series, plus the American run, which includes a deeply moving episode with Phoebe from Friends. It would be worth checking out.