“Civilisations”: Kenneth Clark’s Legacy

The opening sequences of the first episode of “Civilisations,” the BBC’s much-anticipated new series, are among the most stirring pieces of television made in some time. They also unavoidably suggest the handing over of a baton from Kenneth Clark’s 1969 series Civilisation, whose name the new series self-consciously adopts and, by adding that final S, subtly yet tellingly adapts. Clark ended his series optimistic about a well-fed and well-read youth, but amid sequences of St Paul’s Cathedral lashed by fire in the Blitz and images of atom bomb explosions and the desolation they wrought, he concluded that “the future of civilisation doesn’t look very bright”.

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