WHEN TO GO BRITAIN
Shakespeare impresario Laurence Olivier worked both sides of the camera in Henry V (1944); his Hamlet (1948) is still the hallmark Dane. Master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock snared audiences with films produced in both Britain and the US. The 1960s phenomenon of swingin’ London created new momentum for the British film industry and jump-started international interest in British culture. American Richard Lester made pop stars into film stars in the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night (1963), and Scot Sean Connery downed the first of many martinis as James Bond in Dr. No (1962).
Elaborate costume drama and offbeat independent films have come to represent contemporary British film. Kenneth Branagh has focused his talents on adapting Shakespeare for the screen, with glossy, acclaimed works like Hamlet (1996). A new entry into the world of blockbusterdom is the Harry Potter franchise, which kicked off in 2001.
ON THE CANVAS
Secular patronage and court painters followed Britain’s early, religiously-oriented art. Portrait artist Thomas Gainsborough propagated an interest in landscape painting, which peaked in the 19th century with his contemporaries J.M.W. Turner and John Constable. The Victorian era of revival saw movements like Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s (1828-82) Italian-inspired, damsel-laden Pre-Raphaelite school. Modernist trends from the Continent, like cubism and expressionism, were picked up by Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957) and Henry Moore (1898-1986). WWII inspired experimental works by Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. The precocious Young British Artists (YBAs) of the 1990s include sculptor Rachel Whitbread and multi-media artist Damien Hirst.
FACTS AND FIGURES
Official Name: United Kingdom of Great Land Area: 241,590 sq. km.
Britain and Northern Ireland. Time Zone: GMT.
Capital: London. Language: English; also Welsh, Scottish,
Population: 59,800,000. (72%), Muslim (3%), other (25%).
ESSENTIALS WHEN TO GO
It may be wise to plan around the high season (June-Aug.). Spring or autumn (Apr.-May and Sept.-Oct.) are more appealing times to visit; the weather is still reasonable and flights are cheaper, though there may be fewer services in rural areas. If you intend to visit the large cities and linger indoors at museums and theaters, the off season (Nov.-Mar.) is most economical. Keep in mind, however, that sights and accommodations often close or run reduced hours, especially in rural regions. Another factor to consider is hours of daylight in Scotland, summer light lasts almost to midnight, but in winter the sun may set as early as 3:45pm. Regardless of when you go, it will rain; have warm, waterproof clothing on hand.