New to BBC IPlayer, released on the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. (4
th April), is an eight part documentary series on Muhammad Ali. Directed by legendary filmmaker Ken Burns, this in depth look at Ali’s life focuses mainly on his time as an active fighter, but his life both in and out of the ring during those years are examined in great, and emphatically engrossing depth.

Ken Burns is known for his attention to detail and longform, eclectic storytelling. His series on The Vietnam War is a masterpiece, a collage of history and culture, of politics and people. Muhammad Ali is no different, using the boxer’s life as a lens into the world which created Cassius Clay, and materialised Muhammad. Through interviews with Ali’s loved ones, as well as important people from his life and cultural figures, Ali’s existence on the world and its on him is investigated.

What is most effective and exciting about the series, is the chronicles of the fighter; from Cassius Clay through The Nation of Islam to Muhammad Ali and the enforced absences, rivalries and inability to walk away from the sport of boxing. The series boasts impressive, cleaned up, fight footage, clips and sound bytes which set the scene and thrill even if you are well versed in the Ali story. If you are not an Ali know-all, then wow, this is even more of a treat for you.

Brilliant and flawed, both as a boxer and a being, Muhammad Ali was a captivating, charismatic and committed personality and Ken Burns’ series is up to the task of capturing that. This is excellent television which you don’t need to be a fight fan to revel in, but boy does it help. Unmissable.


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