Earlier this evening, I watched the first installment of Operation Stonehenge on BBC 1, and it will surprise few of you who used to follow my Eternal Idol site to learn that my expectations for this production hovered somewhere around the zero mark. After everything that had gone before, in the form of mainstream documentaries on Stonehenge, I’d found the offerings to be so utterly abysmal that I was on the cusp of simply not bothering to watch anything new that involved contributions from the British archaeological establishment.
Operation Stonehenge, however, exceeded my wildest expectations, which were admittedly very muted, but I have to say that it was the single best programme on Stonehenge that I can ever remember watching and that’s by a country mile. The bar for such productions was previously so low that it might have been at ground level, but to my mind, Operation Stonehenge was just about everything that a well-presented, informative and thought-provoking documentary on our greatest prehistoric monument should be.
I had a few minor quibbles, the most significant being that at the start of this programme, great emphasis was laid on answering what were framed as “the big questions” about Stonehenge; the question of the precise nature of the ceremonies that took place there in remote prehistory was notably absent, however, and for me, this is arguably the biggest question of them all and one that absorbs me virtually to the exclusion of all else.
Having said that, I thought the commentary was faultless, as were the re-enactments and the use of CGI. The visual and spoken content was dramatic enough to speak for itself, without the guest presenters being forced to lapse into hyperbole in an attempt to grip the viewer. I particularly liked the contribution by David Jacques, while I suspect that his presentation of a stone that turned a vivid magenta pink after it had been taken from the waters of the sacred spring is probably the most dramatic “Stonehenge revelation” that has ever been presented on television. I would personally have described the stone’s colour as purple, but that’s probably due to my inability to grade colour accurately, along with a gut feeling about the power and antiquity of the colour purple that I can’t articulate or substantiate, certainly not here.
I could write about all this for a good while yet, but as far as Stonehenge productions are concerned, my winter of discontent has become a glorious summer and I’m very much looking forward to the next installment. There’s never been any shortage of engaging material on Stonehenge to present to a public eager for information and insights, but thanks to the director Jeremy Turner, I’ve finally been able to sit on front of my television set enthralled by what I’ve witnessed, rather than sneering in contempt and disbelief before reaching for the Off button.
Operation Stonehenge was superb.