One of the greatest achievements of television -broadcast from 1964 in 26 episodes. Use of extensive archive footage and sound effects, linked with contemporary classic music of that area. ... See full summary »
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1964  
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Cast

Series cast summary:
...
 Himself - Narrator (26 episodes, 1964)
...
 Douglas Haig (26 episodes, 1964)
Emlyn Williams ...
 Lloyd George (26 episodes, 1964)
Marius Goring ...
 Various (26 episodes, 1964)
...
 Various (26 episodes, 1964)
...
 Various (26 episodes, 1964)
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Storyline

One of the greatest achievements of television -broadcast from 1964 in 26 episodes. Use of extensive archive footage and sound effects, linked with contemporary classic music of that area. Concentrated by the commentaries by Michael Redgrave, and some of the finest male actors of the twentieth century. Still manages to be breathtaking despite the lack of special effects or modern gimmicks. Written by Nick Gunning

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Genres:

Documentary | War

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Release Date:

30 May 1964 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

Der große Krieg  »

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(per episode, approximately, x 26 episodes)

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Connections

Edited into I Was There: The Great War Interviews (2014) See more »

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User Reviews

 
50 years old, and still a masterpiece

I just finished watching the series again, for at least the fifth time. "The Great War" is one of the best historical documentaries ever made - on-par with Ken Burns' "The Civil War" - and is the definitive program on the subject matter.

Rather than rehash all that's already been said, I would like to make a couple of (hopefully) fresh observations.

This series' soundtrack is an audio masterwork. Aside from occasional interviews, photos, and graphics cutaways, "The Great War" is necessarily comprised primarily of SILENT film footage. The sound added is done so well, it took me some time to remember this.

It is a tour de force of "foley" - sound effects added after the fact. Scenes of men in camp, on the march, and in battle - shots that would otherwise be silent - are meticulously enhanced with believable ambient sounds: footsteps falling, metal clanging, wind blowing, horses snorting, flies buzzing, men shouting, etc.

Add to this the haunting score by the BBC Northern Orchestra, Michael Redgrave's mesmerizing narration, character voiceovers by a talented cast, plus the voices of actual veterans. Sound and visual mesh seamlessly and with perfect pacing.

The series does have one glaring weak spot: Very little discourse on the weapons and technology of the war.

The use of poison gas is detailed, there is mention of flame throwers, and the viewer is told there were varying sizes of artillery. Submarines and surface warships are given a cursory review. That's about it. For the most part, no information is provided about weapons development or capability - virtually nothing on aircraft, tanks, machine guns, or small arms.

For example, unless learned outside the series, a viewer could assume that semi-automatic assault rifles were standard issue in WWI. It's amazing that, in over 17 hours of content, you never hear the terms "Enfield rifle", "Mauser rifle", or even "bolt-action".

Almost nothing is said about the medical technology of the era, or the huge advances made in treatment, like blood transfusions becoming practical. Little is said about disease. The "Spanish Flu" of 1918 was the worst pandemic in human history, resulting in some 50 million deaths, including more than half of all US servicemen who died in the war, but it is never mentioned.

I guess I'm kind of a tech guy. To its credit, The Great War does avoid falling into a pit of techno-babble that might bore the casual viewer. The program consistently stays on-point: the mindset of the era, how and why historical events took their course, and how the war impacted the common soldier and citizen.

Though the series finale spends much time on the Allied celebration of the armistice, it does not mention the Treaty of Versailles, the League of Nations, or any of the shortcomings made in concluding WWI (key factors in having to fight the war all over again in 21 years, on an even greater scale). I suppose this would have been anti-climatic, but they could have thrown-in at least a sentence or two about the war's legacy.

On the other hand, maybe it's just as well - there's a bazillion documentaries on WWII that start where "The Great War" leaves off. WWI was a watershed event in human history that deserves due consideration outside of WWII's shadow, and "The Great War" drives this point home.

That being said, a true understanding of the Second World War is not possible without an in-depth understanding of the First World War, and "The Great War" is the best source for this that I know of.

Bottom line: "The Great War" is a highly engaging and relevant program, even 50 years after its first showing, and 100 years after the start of WWI. It's a must-see for anyone interested in 20th century and/or military history, and should be required viewing for everyone.


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