The Title Sequence Alone Says More About War Than A Thousand Feature Films
The title sequence of THE GREAT WAR opens with an allied soldier leaning over a cross . The camera quickly pans down a pile of dead bodies then slowly pans left onto a British Tommy , the horrors of war plain to see in his eyes , and all the while doom laden music music plays in the foreground. It`s impossible through words to describe how effective this is , it`s shocking , disturbing and heart wrenching and if this is the title sequence just think how brutal the rest of the documentary is ?
I first saw THE GREAT WAR in 1974 when it was broadcast on Sunday afternoons but for some reason the BBC decided not to broadcast it again until 2003 almost 30 years later . Everyone talks about how great THE WORLD AT WAR ( Which often turns up on British network TV every few years ) is as a documentary but I can`t help thinking this is actually the greatest documentary involving war . Perhaps its greatest strength is that it shows the effect of the conflict throughout the entire world . There is a tendancy for British and Commonwealth historians ( Most notably John Laffin ) to lapse into accusations of incompetence on the part of the British military leaders or even into self sorrow as to the needless slaughter of young British men but as THE GREAT WAR shows this needless slaughter isn`t unique to Douglas Haig . Britain lost 800,000 servicemen while the French lost 1,200,000 while the Germans lost even more while the Russians lost 2,000,000 dead . Would anyone consider the German offensive at Verdun in 1916 as a success for Germany? So the strategic disasters by the British at the Somme and Ypres were in no way unique and the documentary does point out that proportionaly the British suffered higher casualties during the March 1918 offensive by the Germans than they had on the first day of the Somme
If there`s a problem with the documentary then it`s maybe just too informative , it`s impossible to take in all the facts and figures at first showing . Thank gawd for the video recorder where you can tape each episode and slowly assimilate the information ( And the horror ) on screen . There are one or two other flaws like as has been mentioned clips being shown out of context with someone mentioning the day American troops arrived in Britain but instead of American Doughboys on screen it`s clearly British Tommies , but this would be unforgivably pedantic if I described it as a criticism since this is probably the greatest documentary made about any war
I`m afraid I must finish this review with a criticism of the BBC: Their scheduling of this masterwork on BBC 2 was disgraceful with breaks in transmission lasting several weeks whenever it clashed with its sports coverage . Something this superb should have been shown at peak time on BBC 1 at the same time every week
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