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D-Day to Berlin (2005)

Not Rated  |  Video  |   |  Documentary, History  |  19 July 2005 (UK)
7.1
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A 3-part BBC Miniseries depicting the Allied progress from the D-Day landings in Normandy all the way to Berlin. The Normandy breakout is covered, as well as the Battle of the Bulge and ... See full summary »

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Title: D-Day to Berlin (Video 2005)

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A 3-part BBC Miniseries depicting the Allied progress from the D-Day landings in Normandy all the way to Berlin. The Normandy breakout is covered, as well as the Battle of the Bulge and Operation Market Garden, to the eventual objective of Berlin. The Series is narrated by Actor Sean Bean. Written by Anonymous

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19 July 2005 (UK)  »

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Could Do Better
5 June 2011 | by (UK) – See all my reviews

The whole subject of D-Day and the Anglo-American European Campaign 1944-45 has been covered almost to death in books, films, video-games and documentaries. Despite this there are still constant re-assessments and revelations. D-DAY TO BERLIN ignores this in favour of a purely narrative history that not only ignores the most recent academic literature (even for 2005) but also fails to tell its story well.

I have only watched the first episode, on Normandy, as it failed to convince me to watch the others. It combined archive, re-enactments (with some pseudo-dramatic scenes) and interview. In a rarity for TV it also uses radio archive, which I though was an excellent idea, although obviously this would only be possible in a BBC programme as nobody else would have the access, the time or the money to get hold of such audio archive material.

It quickly becomes apparent that this is something of a highlights programme. Of all the invasion beaches only Omaha is mentioned by name, presumably because it was the most dramatic. The programme jumps from Omaha to Villers Bocage to Operation Epsom to Operation Goodwood to the American breakout and so on without explanation of the bits inbetween.

There is a lack of detail throughout the entire programme. Thus a voice-over will describe how the British efforts were intended to keep the German focus on them, allowing the Americans to break out against weaker opposition. Yet we are never told the sizes of the German forces ranged against each, or whether the plan was successful (it was). A simple map showing where German Divisions were deployed would have helped enormously. These details are easy to find out and could easily have been fitted in. So why are they absent?

I suspect it is because the programme makers didn't know themselves. So, for instance, they constantly switch between explaining that British efforts were to cause a breakout and explaining that the British efforts were intended only to aid an American breakout. They simply don't know! Admittedly, this is a source of some controversy but Robin Neillands had explained the whole thing in quite simple language in 2002 in his book THE BATTLE OF NORMANDY 1944, which is quite cheap and easily available.

This lack of knowledge also leads to a number of mistakes, or dubious decisions. To demonstrate the toughness of fighting in Normandy they quote heavily from the report about the 6th Duke of Wellington's Regiment(which was disbanded after suffering heavy casualties and a morale collapse). Yet they don't point out (or don't know) that the case of the 6DWR was unique (nobody else was disbanded). Similarly they quote from Brigadier Harghest's also infamous report, which was also very negative about the performance of British troops. Yet they don't point out that the report was based on very limited findings (Harghest was killed early on in the campaign) and was written by a rather bitter man (Harghest was a New Zealander who tended to view all other nationalities as inferior). These facts significantly alter our analysis of these documents. I understand the limited resources, time and experiences of documentary makers but surely that is why the BBC hired Gary Sheffield? Why didn't he point this out to the BBC team- or did they not listen?

So, not a very good history programme then. Sadly, also not a very good programme full stop. Like many recent high-budget productions this claims to be a docu-drama, which in this case means a number of expensive scenes with re-enactors, a few scenes with (rubbish) actors pretending to be Monty/Ike/Rommel and a handful of CGI shots that are deeply unconvincing. These scenes are just used as wallpaper however, with the narrator talking over them. This is precisely the wrong thing to do. For a docu-drama to work it has to mix the documentary with the dramatic, to make the viewer feel that they are watching a current affairs documentary that just happens to come from the past. Look at Peter Watkin's THE WAR GAME.

Instead the programme makers use a mix of unconvincing styles. Half the time they have the voice-over talk over scenes. Other times they let the handful of actors act out scenes that don't advance the narrative or add useful details. None of the actors look anything like the real thing. The Rommel actor actually looks like William Shatner! Occasionally they throw in a combat scene because it will look good in the trailer. These usually mean an explosion or some dreadful shooting in slow motion overlaid by mournful violins to tell idiots what to feel. To try and make it look real they occasionally stick things in front of the camera, like someone's ear or a bit of a shoulder, to give a documentary feel. Yet the next instant they'll decide they are Spielberg and stick the violins on, switch to slow motion, start jerking the camera around and performing ridiculous fast cuts. The whole mess jarrs. The result is what looks like a dreadful music video or a cut-rate amateur war film you'd be ashamed to buy for two quid in Tescos. It really is astonishing how much cash was spent on this. There are a dozen vehicles and 30+ men. That is more than most 1970's BBC WW2 dramas! Why not just film a British version of BAND OF BROTHERS? Dramatise FEAR IS THE FOE or FROM THE CITY, FROM THE PLOUGH. Or if you really want another documentary why not just go back to THE WORLD AT WAR and update it?


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