The national myth upon which so many country’s patriotism is based is so often vital to a sense of community between disparate people.
What binds the people of Texas and Massachusetts more than their common belief in the predestination of America’s future - that since the days of the Revolution, the country has been marching forward to fulfilment of some extraordinary plan? Yet, in a world in which the unity of countries is being more tested than ever it is perhaps entirely appropriate that a TV series looks as the falsities that harbour themselves in the national myth.
Such as series is American's Biggest Fibs, presented by Dr Lucy Worsley and currently airing on BBC Four. Worsley is probably a familiar face to those who have watched History documentaries on the BBC for the past decade. She is not a figure without controversy attached to her name – surprising in what one would think of as the calm world of academia. Much of this is centred on her 2017 book on Jane Austen.
There have been similar criticisms of her particular style of presenting; her use of costumes and theatrical flourishes have proved not to be to the taste of many viewers – perhaps even you, dear reader. Yet one thing that cannot be denied is that Worsley is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable presenter who brings life into whatever subject she chooses to discuss.
This is particularly evident in her examination of the American Revolution, the focus of the first episode of the series. Worsley dissects several aspects of the revolution’s myths including Longfellow’s poem recounting Paul Revere’s ride and the way the War was won.
Whilst the areas which Worsley covers might not be ground-breaking to any historian of the field they are certainly entertainingly and interestingly tackled; Worsley never makes the subject she is discussing feel stifled or lacking in intrigue – rather she invests real passion into making her presentation as interesting as possible. Her ability to discuss historical facts such as the French involvement in the war with historians in great depth demonstrates her historical knowledge and her presenting talent.
American History’s Biggest Fibs is an engaging and entertaining documentary that gets its stated aims across effectively and easily. It shouldn’t be taken as a definite look at the myths upon which America is built. Rather it should be viewed as what it is – an enjoyable and amusing jaunt through American History with a charming presenter that knows how to play to her strengths and ensure that her audience is engaged throughout.
Worsley may not be everyone’s cup of tea but she is certainly a powerful presenter and should be recognized as such; her popularising of the TV History Documentary is to her credit and her latest work certainly reminds viewers of her ability to capture the essence of a topic and be able to distil it into a consumable and inviting material for audiences to engage with. Worsley’s next product, regardless of what it is, is sure to be as interesting as this one.
- Watched on BBC Four. 17/01/2019