Movie Details

This documentary makes history entertaining as well as educational. Beautifully photographed, it uses reenactments, paintings, maps, pottery, metalwork, and "living statues" to take the viewer on a vicarious journey through ancient Greece. Actor Liam Neeson narrates, and unobtrusive music inspires the imagination. Episode one, The Revolution, begins at the dawn of democracy in 508 B.C., with the revolution of the common people against aristocratic rule. The documentary, directed and written by Cassian Harrison, then travels further back in time to chronicle the key events leading up to the revolution. As the camera roams ancient ruins, the Greek countryside, and old stone roads, the viewer learns that the inhabitants of Greece once lived in mud houses with no sewage and frequently fell prey to disease and warfare. Unable to write, they memorized their works of literature -- more than one million lines, the documentary says -- in order to pass them on to the next generation. Over time, their hardship and learning whetted their appetite for freedom. After rule by tyrants of the aristocratic class and a struggle for power, Cleisthenes (570-507 B.C.), himself an aristocrat, sided with the common people of Athens and brought democracy into being. The camera shows how ordinary citizens, men only, enacted laws by voting with black or white pebbles. From this beginning, western democracy developed and flourished. An actor stands in as Cleisthenes, posing as a flesh-and-blood mannequin, and the viewer has the sense that at any moment he will come alive and repeat the successes, or blunders, of history. The documentary calls upon experts -- such as Josiah Ober, of Princeton University, and Paul Cartledge, of Cambridge University -- to explain and comment on momentous political and other events in Ancient Greece. One extremely important economic development was the exploitation of the olive tree. Narrator Neeson notes that its gift of oil stimulated seafaring trade with other Mediterranean countries so that Athens and other city-states could grow and prosper. All the while during their early maturation into a Mediterranean power, Athens and other city-states had to live with the threat of war from expansionist Sparta as well as the vast Persian Empire. But democracy had taken root, and it proved in the long run to be a greater force than the mightiest of armies. ~ Mike Cummings, Rovi