Scott vs. Amundsen. It wasn't meant to be a race, but race it becomes, as the world awaits news of the first to reach the Pole. What follows is a tale of heroism, foolhardiness, selflessness and self-delusion, in a land where victory must be secondary to survival. Written by
The song that Olav Bjaaland (Ståle Bjørnhaug) sings when the Norwegian team breaks the "farthest south" record is "Nordmannen", also called "Millom Bakkar og Berg". The lyrics are by the Norwegian poet and linguist, Ivar Aasen (1813-1896), best known for developing the "landsmaal" written language from rural Norwegian dialects. The music is by Ludvig Lindeman (1812-1887). See more »
In the series, Amundsen visits Dr Frederick Cook in Leavenworth Prison shortly after the publication of Scott's journal. In reality, the meeting took place more than a decade later, in 1926, when Cook was serving a sentence for his part in an alleged oil fraud. See more »
This series was a great revelation to me: I'd heard of "Scott of the Antarctic" but never of Roald Amundsen, the man who beat Scott to the South Pole. It is a fine adaptation of the book by Roland Huntford, and does a great job of poking a hole in the romantic illusion that this adventure was some landmark episode of English heroism. It is instead an illustration of a truth that no one at the time could admit: that by 1912 "Britain was forgetting how to think", and too long a period at the top as the world's pre-eminent power had bred arrogance, inflexibility and an inability to learn. The contrast between the pompous incompetence of the British and the intelligence and adaptability of the underdog Norwegians is highlighted throughout the series. As Amundsen says in the first episode, "Experience teaches them only one thing: that they are British, and therefore pre-eminent. But Nature is deaf to such things; she cannot hear the tunes of glory." Even to a person who does not already know the historical outcome of this story, the British from the beginning seem to be marching to their doom. The whole expedition, despite the money and materiel lavished upon it, is a story of shoddiness, second-rate decision-making, and slovenly improvisation. The blame for most of this is laid squarely upon Scott himself, who is shown as a thoroughly mediocre leader. Martin Shaw gives a wonderful performance as Scott, and even manages the considerable feat of creating some sympathy for this stupid man, pushed out of his depth and driven by ambition to attempt something he is incapable of achieving. There was some outrage, especially in Britain, both at the book and the series, which were seen as unfairly kicking Scott, who had at least paid with his life for any mistakes he might have made. The makers of this series are to be complimented for not yielding to such sentimentality. They never let us forget that 4 other men died with Scott as a result of his stupidity, and the horror of their slow death by starvation, scurvy, exposure and infection is presented unflinchingly. The end of the series gives us a cynical scene with Scott's widow and the responsible officers of the Admiralty busy concocting the myth of "Scott of the Antarctic" which was to beguile the public until Huntford's book came along to shine the light of truth into this corner of history. Hopefully, as a result of the book and the series, there can be no going back to the comfortable lies of the past.
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