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PBS Home Video presents

Rebels & Redcoats: How Britain Lost America (2004)

"In this series, I will be exploding the myths about the struggle that forged the American nation."- Richard Holmes

Stars: Richard Holmes
Director: Harvey Lilley

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 03h:30m:00s
Release Date: 2004-06-29
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer


DVD Review

Rebels & Redcoats: How Britain Lost America is a collection of four separate PBS documentaries, all interconnected, which reveal a wealth of little known truths about the American Revolution, told from a British viewpoint. Richard Holmes, a noted British military historian, presides over the series and acts as narrator, spouting facts, battle strategies, and informational nuggets as his introduces a bevy of characters (some more familiar than others), all of whom figured prominently during decisive moments in the Revolution.

But this is not your typical history book lesson.

The fact that Holmes challenges what popular American history tells us—and in what seems like an initially terse and very English manner—gives the whole narrative a weirdly defensive lilt right out of the box, but as the first installment, The Shot Heard Round the World, progresses, his gruffness takes on a weird charm of its own. He lobs out some incendiary volleys of his own, including some less than vague comparisons to the "planned aggression" of the revolutionaries to other more well-known terrorist organizations. I'm not used to hearing Paul Revere and Samuel Adams get trash-talked, but the more Holmes went on, the more I was able to at least see things somewhat from the British perspective.

Perception is indeed reality.

Over the course of four episodes (each running about 50 minutes or so), Holmes politely tramples on the brute force of "the Boston radicals", with each segment managing to fine tune a few historical inaccuracies along the way. By the final chapter, The World Turned Upside Down, as things stretch into the fifth year of the war, including an otherworldly assault by the British through the foreign terrain of the South, things have gotten progressively ugly for everyone involved.

Director Harvey Lilley parades Holmes through modern day Boston as he cites locations where pivotal events occurred, blended with a fair amount of recreations. Lilley also utilizes a number of actors to portray key characters (George Washington, for example) who occasionally speak directly to the camera, offering what is supposed to be their thoughts and feelings. It is a potentially trite technique, but it actually works just fine here. Normally I'm not a big fan of watching battle recreations, but I understand the scarcity of actual Revolutionary War footage, so I can cut Lilley some slack. Plus, I was so engrossed by what Holmes was saying that I almost didn't care about the occasional moments of recycled footage or that the woman who played the wife of British General Gage was distractingly cute.

I'm all for parading brave military heroes of the past around, but in this case it would seem that history books sometimes blur the ethnocentric lines a bit. There is something keenly disjointed about learning how crudely plucky and aggressive the so-called "radicals" were, utilizing propaganda like professional instigators and staging extremely violent attacks when necessary. The crazy brilliance of the American "turtle"—the world's first combat submarine—and its Wile E. Coyote corkscrew for digging into the bottom of enemy ships is bizarrely innovative, if nothing else, and when combined with other "rebel guerilla tactics" make for a compelling new slant on American history.

While it is obviously geared from the British perspective, the presentation of information should certainly be required viewing in every history classroom, and American living room, for that matter.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: While not anamorphic, Paramount has earned a modicum of brownie points by issuing Rebels & Redcoats in a smart looking 1.85:1 widescreen print. The whole presentation is noticeably soft, with regard to image detail, but the color reproduction is brimming with bright, full-bodied hues.


Image Transfer Grade: B

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is provided in 2.0 Dolby Surround Stereo, and for a television documentary series it is a fairly pleasing mix. Rear channels do get used sporadically, filling out some of the recreated battle scenes with bits of ambient sound cues that filled out the soundfield nicely. Narration is consistently clear and well-presented, with no evidence of hiss or other pesky distractions.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 40 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Not that I felt I could have possibly learned anything more, but there are no extras of any kind to be found here. Each of the three episodes are cut into 10 chapters each.

Extras Grade: D-

Final Comments

This might go against the popular grain from what you learned in school, but the intolerably fascinating Rebels & Redcoats: How Britain Lost America takes a different (and in some cases eye-opening) look at the events of the late 1700s, largely from the viewpoint of the Brits.

Take a chance to learn about the Revolutionary War from a different perspective.


Rich Rosell 2004-07-21