Nearly 50 years later, Civilisation is finally returning, this time as Civilisations – examining the world's early cultures, ceremonies, institutions and art. Not only intriguing, intelligent and interesting, the series is punchy, shocking and quite as exciting as any lion hunt.
This ambitious new programme gives us nine episodes – five presented by Simon Schama, two by Mary Beard and two by David Olusoga – and explores over 250 museums, libraries and galleries, whizzing around 31 countries and taking in more than 500 pieces of art.
Curiously, the original show was partly the brain-child of Attenborough, who wanted an excuse to take advantage of the new colour TV. Well, we might be used to colour TV by now, but Civilisations still provides a visually sumptuous ride.
Schama begins the series with a surprisingly aggressive opening scene, in which we're told the story of the 81-year-old Chief Curator in Palmyra who was murdered at the hands of ISIS trying protect Palmyran artefacts from destruction. Such brutality, Schama tells us, shows us (we the 'art making animal') what civilisation feels like: 'shock of its imminent loss on the mutilation on the body of our humanity'.
Then we reach back in time. Schama takes us to the earliest painted caves, which show that art and music came into the world together, as blood-red and berry-purple paintings give us pictures of horns and bows being played in sacred rituals.
Where there is history, there's also human imagination. Schama examines the oldest known decorated object, a piece of ochre dating back to 77,000 BC,, and a magnificently curious sculpture found in Germany known as a 'lion man' that possibly shows a Shaman halfway through transformation 35,000 – 40,000 years ago.
Schama's infectious enthusiasm takes us through Petra and Greece before touching on the history of Mayan civilisation. It's a tour-de-force through the creative landscape of early man.
In the second episode, Mary Beard takes the helm to examine the representation of the human body. We expect her to gleefully take up Schama's intense, moving beam of intellectual curiosity, as part of a series that introduces us to little-known artistic masterpieces, as well as discussing the big-hitters from the Greek, Roman and Egyptian civilisations we know well. Who needs sharks?
|What||Civilisations review BBC Two|
|Where||BBC Two, BBC Two , BBC Two , BBC Two | MAP|
01 Mar 18 – 22 Jun 18, 9:00 PM – 10:00 PM