Michael Portillo tells the story of how a small island on the edge of Europe built the biggest empire the world has ever seen.
Part 1: British East India Company
Michael travels to India to uncover how the British East India Company – the world’s first multinational corporation – raised a private army to create an empire. Beginning his journey in the slums of Kolkata, he explores the ruins of the grand residence of Clive of India, who became the undisputed ruler of Bengal – amassing a vast personal fortune and making millions for shareholders in Britain.
Part 2: Jamaica
Michael visits Jamaica, the Caribbean capital of the Empire, heading to Fort Charles where the Empire enlisted the help of pirates to defend the new territory from the Spanish. At the old naval headquarters, Michael learns how the Royal Navy moved in to replace the pirates as Britain struck a deal with Spain to keep her territories. The island needed a new source of wealth, and found it in the triangular trade as slaves were shipped from Africa to work sugar plantations. In Pinnacle, birthplace of the Rastafari movement, Michael learns how Jamaicans were later inspired to create a new religion.
Part 3: South Africa
Michael travels to South Africa to explore how the lure of riches led Britain into barbaric wars, dividing the country along racial lines. He visits the crumbling Fort Napier, the British garrison in Natal, where battles were planned and executed against the Zulu people. The white minority devised rules to subdue the native black population, corralling people into squalid townships and offering them menial jobs. Eventual conflict with the descendants of Dutch settlers – Boers – was inevitable. Michael learns how Mohandas Gandhi fought the racial segregation that would later calcify into Apartheid.
Part 4: The US and Canada
Michael explores how British rule led to armed rebellion in the USA, and a loyalty in Canada that lasted until the very end of the Empire. On Long Island, Michael visits The Brewster House, a former tavern where British soldiers met and talked freely during the Revolutionary War, unaware that it was run by George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring. He also calls in at Fort Niagara, where he learns how the native peoples of North America saw their tribes and families torn apart as they picked sides, shedding blood on behalf of either the crown or the patriots.