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Einstein’s Big Idea

Einstein’s Big Idea

Wed May 1, 7.50-9pm, PBS America

By Phil Harrison
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Episode one
A few weeks ago, we discussed the various issues associated with science on TV. This hefty, two-part PBS docudrama from 2005 (which concludes tomorrow night) responds to the problem by chucking money at it. The cast is impressive (Shirley Henderson, Alexander McQueen, Julian Rhind-Tutt), the running time is lengthy and the special-effects guys are given free rein.

However, the results are best described as mixed. The first thing to note is that, like much of PBS’s output, it’s comprehensive, almost to a fault. We spend much of this opener concentrating on Einstein’s precursors like Faraday and Lavoisier. Dramatic dynamics are sacrificed to a certain extent, but this does also have the effect of showcasing the work of marginal figures like pioneering female physicist Émilie du Châtelet.

The science itself is communicated showily – Einstein’s peers were apparently a bitchily competitive bunch and a sense of drama was apparently important. The overall effect: one of the best schools programmes ever made, but perhaps a little busy for mature tastes.
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