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Mary Queen of Scots, Chaucer, Sir Laurence Olivier and many more make Westminster Abbey one of the most visited grave sites in the world. Renowned playwright Alan Bennett explores the living history of the Abbey and meets the family of over 100 people who keep it running 365 days a year. History, religion, human nature, the English, and Englishness are all carefully examined as Bennett wanders through Westminster Abbey. Mingling with the crowds of tourists, watching cleaners and tour guides at work, and eavesdropping on services, dedications, and Abbey management meetings, Bennett presents an intimate portrait of the everyday life found in this historic building.
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The Abbey is a three-episode BBC program that traces a day in the life of Westminster Abbey. Narrated by actor Alan Bennett, the acclaimed author of The Madness of King George, this is the video equivalent of a tourist visit to the Abbey, and then some. The series differs from other similar documentaries in that the building is shown "at work," filled with the bustling activity of the custodial staff, delivery people, preservation crews, religious figures, schoolchildren, and especially tourists. Bennett watches the early morning rituals of the "Abbey family," the people who tune the organ, dust the statues, deliver the milk, attend the first service of the day, and such, and provides a general introduction to the layout and history of one of England's most popular tourist attractions. He visits the final resting places of many monarchs as well as Sir Laurence Olivier, Lord Byron, the Brontë sisters, and Jane Austen. Bennett stays to experience the Abbey's quiet evening rituals--the boys' choir practice, a private tour given by the dean, and compline, the last service of the day. Bennett's narrative is at times painfully slow, wry, and effete, but it includes a wealth of amusing and informative anecdotes, citations, and historical fact. This look at Westminster Abbey will appeal to anyone interested in the architecture, day-to-day life, and religious and lay history of this venerated British building. Think of it as a virtual tour. --Tara Chace
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