Segments in this Video

Portraits of the Powerful (02:47)


Reading faces quickly teaches humans about others. Portraits allow people to do the same thing with faces of the past, but portraits are more complicated, involving the vanity of the sitter, the artistry of the painter, and the verdict of the public.

Story of Churchill's Portrait (03:11)

Prime Minister Winston Churchill's birthday was celebrated on November 30, 1954. Churchill was credited with saving the nation from the Nazis, but had suffered a stroke and was aware that some of the nation wanted to replace him with a younger prime minister. Parliament picked Graham Sutherland to paint him.

Duel of Egos (03:55)

Churchill was not an easy subject to paint as he was moody, constantly smoking, and often drinking. Sutherland had to remind him to pose properly and then decided to paint at his own home with photographs as reference. The portrait was unveiled to the British public, and Churchill hated it, humiliating Sutherland.

Portrait of Magnificent Ruin (03:33)

The portrait of Churchill was never displayed at his home and it was eventually burned. The remaining transparency has become British history. In the English village of Piccotts End, there is a house that was once a hostel containing artworks by an unknown artist painted over 500 years ago.

To Take the Face Away (02:58)

Images of Christ, angels, and saints were solemnly honored, according to Aidan Hart. Protestant reformers defaced the paintings at the house in Piccotts End to remove the talismanic connection that Catholics had with the paintings. Replacing the images of Christ were new icons: the King in Majesty.

Face of the Virgin Queen (03:37)

Queen Elizabeth I reigned from the Hatfield House in England. Her realm was in jeopardy because she did not marry and provide a Protestant heir for the society. She could not be perceived as weak or feeble; people were banned from creating images of her.

Symbolic Portraiture (03:04)

Shortly before her death, the Rainbow Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I was painted, showcasing her as impenetrably young and beautiful despite her actual jaundiced complexion.

British Caesar (03:55)

Charles I was coronated monarch of England in 1626, a intuitive, stammering young man cast in portraits that projected his image of imperial power. A French sculptor who had come to England with Queen Henrietta Maria erected an equestrian statue of Charles I in London, leaving a trace of the Charles' quest for power forever in London.

Aristocratic Supremacy Over the Crown (03:31)

Oliver Cromwell ordered the statue of Charles I be melted; it was given to John Rivet who actually buried it. Five years later, it was returned to London not far from the site of Charles' execution. In the late 17th century the second Earl of Sunderland, Robert Spencer, invited King William III to dinner, and used portraits to communicate that he was up against the powerful Spencer Dynasty.

Revolution in Art (01:58)

A revolution in art and a weapon in accumulating or destroying political power, comic satire uses images to control the public's view of notable figures. Its origins trace to the 18th century.

Gillray's Poison Pen (03:12)

James Gillray created a cartoon published in 1791 of William Pitt, turning him into a toadstool on a pile of feces creating unmistakable social commentary. Gillray also made mockeries of the royal family.

Awakening Modern Democracy (02:16)

In the 1840s, photography arrived in Britain and made it possible for almost anyone to own an image of themselves or their families, no longer a luxury reserved for the rich. The monarchy was able to portray themselves as a loving family and connect with the public in such a way.

Inconsolable Widow (02:25)

Prince Albert died in 1861 and Queen Victoria went into mourning far from the public eye, but published photographs of herself to remain visible to her subjects in one form.

Woman Determined to Take Power (03:35)

Public suspicion of politicians is now more prevalent than ever before, forcing public figures to portray relatable images of themselves to the public. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used public image to persuade the public that a woman could lead the nation of Britain.

Acceptable and Unobjectionable (02:00)

A portrait of Margaret Thatcher was commissioned in 1993, which she played a role in controlling. She demanded her hair and eye colors be altered to suit her preferences, creating an unremarkable image.

Portraits Defining Memories (03:32)

In late 1941, Europe had fallen to the Nazis, and Winston Churchill went to North America in search of resources where he delivered a speech in Ottawa, Canada. After the speech, a photographer called Yousef Karsh managed to capture an image of Churchill looking furious.

Credits: The Face of Power: Episode 1—The Face of Britain (00:39)

Credits: The Face of Power: Episode 1—The Face of Britain

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The Face of Power: Episode 1—The Face of Britain

Part of the Series : The Face of Britain
DVD (Chaptered) Price: $300.00
DVD + 3-Year Streaming Price: $450.00
3-Year Streaming Price: $300.00



In this film, Simon Schama explores the uniquely powerful and compelling art form of portraiture, studying notable figures and their portraits like Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. Portraits of religious figures and British nobility shaped the political and social world of the Brits, and artists employed comic satire to humiliate and poke fun at tyrannical leaders. Additionally, photography and its influence on the public is studied through Queen Victoria’s portraits. A BBC Production. 

Length: 51 minutes

Item#: BVL115632

ISBN: 978-1-63521-072-9

Copyright date: ©2015

Closed Captioned

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