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A gripping contest at the South Pole
Rosabel16 July 1999
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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One of the Best Movies Ever Shown on TV
treynolds-77 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
My wife and I watched this in the mid-Eighties when it was broadcast here in the United States. I seem to remember it being shown on BBC's Masterpiece Theatre, which we were addicted to at the time...

This is a gripping movie and the characters are well-developed. Shot (as I remember) in Norway, the 'polar' scenes are very believable as are the costumes and props.

Anyone who is interested in this genre and period of history really owes it to themselves to read the book from which the movie was made: "The Last Place on Earth", by Roland Huntford. I loaned out my copy and it was never returned, but this is a very large, very well-written, can't-put-it-down book.

There is no spoiler to share: Everyone who knows anything about history knows that Scott lost the 'race', but while some (mainly Scott-supporters) may say that Huntford is biased in his telling of the race to the Pole between Amundson and Scott, the book and the movie draw the same conclusion and I believe the viewer will as well: Scott was a well-intentioned fool and has been glorified as the quintessential British Explorer/Martyr for all these years simply because his recovered diaries spin a better story. Amundson was not good at self-promotion.

I have been telling people how great this movie is for over twenty years. It has never been re-broadcast, so buying the movie is the only way to see it.

For another perspective on a TRUE British hero, people should read the book "Shackleton" by the same author.
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So was Scott a Hero?
davefryer1 July 2002
This series was a superb production based on Roland Huntford's book. For many years Scott was portrayed as a hero, who died on his return from the Pole. In Death he overshadowed Amundsen's achievement of being first to the pole. Huntford's book and this production, set out to dispell the legend of Scott the Hero.

The start of the series, gives an insight into the direction the whole production goes. It shows Amundsen staying with Eskimos, while Scott is facing the prospect of a court marshall. There can be little doubt in reality that the British Expedition was no match for the experienced collection of Norwegian Explorers. If it had been a sporting event, it would have been classed as a thrashing. After all Amundsens was halfway back to his base when Scott reached the Pole.

The different ideas of the two men is made clear. Amundsen knows he must be first to the pole. He can't afford to be second. He has told his country and government that he is headed for the north pole. He knows that no chances can be taken in a place as unforgiving as the Antartic. Scott however believes that the pole is his by rights, this is probably due to the mentality of the British at that period of time when they had the largest empire the world had seen. He takes only enough supplies to make it there and back, and when he falls behind schedule he starves to death.

It portrays Scotts rivalry with Shakelton, and why Scott pushed on to the Pole, as he felt he had to do better than Shakelton. For many years Scott was considered the Greater Hero. Nowadays it is reversed with Shakelton's concern for his men, is looked on more favourable, thans Scott's reckless actions to push on to the prize.

For all of Scott's mistakes, the show does not go into the bad luck that Scott suffered at the Hands of the weather. Yes, it does snow in the Antartic all the time, but the temperature in the March that year was well below the average for that time of year. Would Scott had made it back in more favourable conditions, we'll never know, but Amundsen knew it was not a place to take chances.

In summing up, this was a superb production, with good acting, directing and setting. I recommend anyone who enjoyed this to read the book as well. Also to read Scott's diary, as it is a masterpiece. Maybe he was more suited to writing than to exploring.
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Arguably the very best exploration film ever made.
JANA-718 October 2001
Roland Huntford's meticulous and exhaustive research of Scott and Amudsen's Antarctic exploration efforts for winning the South Pole help make the making of this film a Directors dream and challenge. Outstanding cinematography and period costume design push this great story to the highest level of viewing. The film should be mandatory viewing for all highschoolers. The historical and geographical values will enhance ones knowledge of this very special period of Antarctic exploration in the early 1900s. The British and Norwegian actors perform their skills with convincing emotion. The film, based on Huntford's documentary brilliance, gives us all time to ponder what really happened in claiming the South Pole and lays to rest a good deal of sentimental nonsense,which some of us were subjected to during our high school days.
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Amundsen Still Being Hounded by Scott Myth
anneliesemaus6 May 2005
Let me start out by agreeing with everyone who has previously written: it is the best drama about polar adventure ever made.

The viewer should be very skeptical about the Scott defenders because it is evident their homework is shallowly researched and based on a very limited interpretation of Scott's polar problem: that bad luck and bad weather caused his downfall.

I've read Huntford's book 3 times, read the weather article and seen the PBS episode where the young scientist tried to resurrect Scott as a noble, if unfortunate hero. Also, Huntford and his fellow professionals have posted excellent rebuttals regarding these spurious claims about Scott and the weather.

The questions that should put an end to the argument is this: who would get you through safely and who exhibited a breadth of polar knowledge sufficient to AVOID the problems of travel in the brutal Antarctic?

If you said Scott, then you probably thought the Charge of the Light Brigade was a wonderful jaunt through Russian cannon fire just to show how noble and brave you were. Above all else, don't let these half-informed reviewers go without a serious look into the counter-points made to their weak arguments.

Still, the series is a breath-taking look at the human struggle to survive and to seek glory and the dreadful price it takes in lives and in the judgment of history.
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It gets no better...
canuckteach28 April 2010
This is a fabulous mini-series - a docudrama - about the South Pole expeditions of Norwegian R Amundsen and the British Robert Falcon Scott. The acting and photography are superb, an excellent period piece (although the quality of the DVD itself is a bit grainy).

Unless you've slept under a rock for 100 years, or never read a history book, you know that Amundsen reached the Pole first, and successfully returned, whereas Scott and 4 of his men perished miserably on the return trip. Why? It's all about project management. This DVD is all about properly managing a complicated project dealing with the wilds of nature. Amundsen has 'it' - Scott doesn't.

The Norwegians are highly-skilled at traveling in frozen wastelands. They are in fine physical condition, they know how to ski and handle dog-teams. Amundsen recruits a small team of specialists. He doesn't get too high or low about anything, nor does he get too close to the team--he remains aloof. He makes meticulous preparations.

The British are operated like a Navy Ship under military command: Scott gives orders and doesn't want them questioned. He has a group of favorites, but takes a colossal team of guys, mostly military, but some civilians, who find Scott pompous, arrogant and misguided. He breaks promises and plays the men against each other, while they hope to be in the final group to make the final trek. He sends the wrong guy to purchase Siberian ponies, to save a few bucks, plus he fails to include a couple of key players, including a properly-trained team to tend to the motor sledges. Since there wasn't a Walmart Auto (or Canadian Tire) in the Antarctic, you might wonder what he was thinking. But his biggest problem is the notion of man-hauling the enormous loads all the way to the Pole. you see: no one walks when they can ride. and the Eskimos always rode dog-teams. Scott had experienced some difficulties with dogs in the past, but that's no excuse.

I might direct your attention to a couple of fabulous scenes featuring Bill Nighy, who plays Meares, one of the dog-team drivers. Meares says he'd rather swim back to New Zealand than spend another season under Scott's command. He later tells Scott, in so many words, that he finds it highly unlikely that Scott will live to criticize Meares' choices. Nighy is terrific.

In case you missed it, this screenplay is based on a historical non-fiction piece created after it was discovered that many unflattering portions of Scott's diary were excised from the publication released to the public. There has been quite the resistance from many quarters to a revised viewpoint of a man considered to be a great British hero. Apparently, some recent discovery that the weather was particularly cold when Scott tried to return from the Pole is cited as startling scientific evidence that this presentation of Scott as a peevish incompetent should be set aside. well, whose decision was it to try walking there and back anyway? As Meares says (in this dramatization): 'any man who sits in the Antarctic and whines about the weather is unfit to lead'.

I'll close with a quote, not from this film, but from the 1948 'Scott of the Antarctic' with John Mills. The Scott character (Mills) tells Nansen (the elder statesman of Arctic exploration) that he is going to the South Pole with motor sledges, Siberian ponies, and dogs. Nansen replies that Scott should take dogs, dogs and more dogs.

Amundsen did - Scott didn't. Case closed.

Enjoy this excellent re-creation of events. It's insightful.
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One of the great films of polar travel
sryason21 May 2014
So, here we go again - Scott had it harder than Amundsen, Amundsen was simply doing a "stunt", and so Scott was the more "noble".

If you compare their diaries (and you can now, as Huntford did), Scott stayed in his tent on days when Amundsen and his crew did their fifteen miles (they did fifteen miles a day unless they were completely blizzard-bound - some days in their fur underwear and nothing else). And they had the same weather on nearly the same days. Scott started later, since his teams couldn't travel when it was really cold, so he was out on the land-mass later than Amundsen by nearly a month (which is why he encountered colder temperatures). Scott assumed that changing his headcount from four to five men at the last minute would make no difference in the food supply when they'd very carefully planned exactly how much food they'd need for a four-man team, with no contingency for delays. Amundsen ensured that he'd have at least double the amount of food and fuel he'd need for the whole trip.

As to dogs and ponies - Scott didn't like dogs, because he didn't understand them, either how to work with them, nor how to drive them. The first time he saw dogs being driven properly was on the barrier by Cecil Meares. The scenes where Meares drives past them, and is later found relaxing, waiting for the rest of the teams to arrive are taken verbatim from Scott's and Meares' diaries. Ponies are NOT appropriate for the Antarctic environment, since they have to pull their own food for every mile they're going to walk. Dogs could eat seal and penguin, both of which are native to the Antarctic; they could also eat each other, if necessary.

Amundsen had to trail-blaze an entirely new route, through and over some of the most difficult terrain the Antarctic has to offer. Scott had a map of his route up to the last ninety-seven miles. The Beardmore glacier (Scott's route) is a nice, long, slow climb to the Pole. The Axel Heiberg glacier requires planes flying over it to use their maximum rate of climb; Amundsen and his crew pioneered a route through the ice falls of the Heiberg in less than a week.

And yes, there was a conspiracy to tart up Scott's diaries for public consumption. Scott's widow, Kathleen, worked with J.M. Barrie (of Peter Pan fame) to edit his diaries, making him more of a heroic figure, and cutting out the more disparaging comments Scott made about his companions.

Planning is everything: Scott and his companions died of starvation and scurvy; Amundsen and his crew gained weight on their trip.

I'm not saying that Scott wasn't a brave fellow or that his journey was less than that of Amundsen. I can't imagine man-hauling a 300 lb sledge for hundreds of miles. The tragedy of Scott is that, had he done his research (as Amundsen had), he wouldn't have had to, and he might have beat Amundsen to the pole.
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Stiff Upper Lips Old Boy
steeled12322 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
They all die at the end! Anyway the source book for this mini-series is still one of the most controversial polar books ever written and this version pulls no punches.

From start to finish it takes a rather anti-Scott view but in light of the "evidence" presented here it's not really surprising as this is myth stripping at it's finest. Gone is the famous last line of Oates, which I always considered a fabrication anyway, and also rather surprisingly cut is the reaction of Scott to the South Pole.

The Uk cast are without exception wonderful with such wonderful character actors as Richard Wilson, Hugh Grant and Tom Georgeson getting very little screen time.

See this and then go and seek out John Mills.
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No Mercy in Debunking Legends
vox-sane6 May 2002
This is an extremely well-made, well-acted multipart drama about the "race" to the South Pole between Scott and Amundsen, based on a book by Roland Huntford. Huntford's book set out to debunk the myth of Scott of the Antarctic, and now many of his assertions are accepted as blythly as once the legend of Scott was accepted. Unfortunately, many of Huntford's assertions have themselves been debunked, and the book, while taking a critical view of Scott's preparations as compared to Amundsen's, still is interesting with its newfound trivia, is increasingly relegated to a status as an interesting fossil. Also interesting is that the off-screen Shackleton (now famous after the Kenneth Branagh movie) is always treated in the book and "The Last Place on Earth" as a polar savant and a superior force to Scott, actually had many of the same qualities Huntford attributes to Scott -- including inadequate planning -- but Shackleton got all his men home safely; whereas Huntford, and the movie, ascribe a death wish to Scott, which is absolutely undocumented.

Martin Shaw's Scott is irascible, peevish, and stupid, just as Huntford wanted him. He does seize upon good qualities as they come his way, but basically he's a whipped man, sent south from his wife's desire to have a great husband. Perhaps he just wants to go to the South Pole to get away from her.

Amundsen, the man who got to the South Pole first, is treated as a parfait knight in every way. The Norwegian scenes were as well done as the British scenes.

However, the film, in its debunking of the Scott legend, hides some evidence and creates other evidence. For instance, Scott's dislike of using dogs was not a hidebound reflex, but the fact that in an earlier expedition, dogs did not perform adequately. He knew his life would depend on them in the polar region, and his experience told them he could not rely on them. He thought the tractors and Siberian ponies would, however, be good replacements. Unfortunately, the ponies were more useless than the dogs might have been.

Amundseon, however, had problems himself. He never wanted to go south, but wanted the North Pole. Too bad: not one, but two men [both, if you know your history, outrageous liars] claimed the North Pole, Cook and Peary. Cook was a pal of Amundsen's from an earlier expedition where he'd saved many lives as a doctor. Though they were fast friends, Amundsen did not realize or blinded himself to the fact that Cook, when he could not achieve a feat (like climbing Mt. Mckinley) would lie about his achievements shamelessly. He was not only a fraud, he later became a swindler.

As one would expect in a movie like this, Cook is portrayed in a positive light; and he's obviously given North Polar priority, though in fact he never came within a thousand miles of the pole.

Amundsen, finding the glory he sought to the north taken from him by two skilled liars, neither of whom reached the North Pole in fact, decided to take the South Pole, because he was deeply in debt at the time and thought he would make money off it. So, telling the world he was heading north on a scientific expedition, went south instead. Scott, learning about this only when his expedition was on its way, was forced to expedite some of his own arrangements, thereby condemning his own polar party in a race he hadn't expected. And since he arrived at the pole only days after Amundsen, but nevertheless second, spent unnecessary time collecting useless scientific data, and collecting worthless rock samples, trying to ensure his own expedition served science, if nothing else; but he was swindled out of polar priority.

One area where Huntford is dead wrong, and the movie, is his complaints that Scott whined about the weather. In fact, we now know, as Scott could not with his more primitive weather gauging, that the weather was much worse than anyone could've expected; that under normal conditions as were known at the time, Scott's preparations would've been adequate; and it was by luck more than dogs and skis that Amundsen didn't get bogged down and die in the same conditions Scott had.

And Scott proved himself a man of honor, of course, in that Amundsen, perhaps snidely, left a letter for Scott to be taken back in case the Norwegian died; and Scott and his party died lugging home the letter, carefully preserved, that would've presented evidence to the world that Scott reached the pole second, even though at the time, no doubt the world would've taken an Englishman's word if Scott, like Cook and Peary, decided to lie about his achievements.

Unfortunately, the race to the south pole, unlike the race north, involved two basically honorable men, who felt forced by circumstances to chicanery: Amundsen, by lying to the world about the real purpose of his expedition; and Scott, by forcing his men to achieve the pole in an over-hasty way to beat his unexpected competitor.

As it turned out, both men got what they deserved. Scott, though it cost him his life, got the South Polar glory; and Amundsen got priority, though, since he started out his expedition with deception (as Cook and Peary ended their's) earned neither fame nor money, but only his place in history.

As Huntford's book is now seriously undermined in parts (especially in the new finds about the weather, which come from core samples unavailable at the time Huntford decided to undermine Britain's South Polar hero) it would be nice to see a new Scott and Amundsen show in the light of the new evidence, especially with such a fine cast and good production values as this show presented. But as that's not likely, this is the best version of that history you'll find. It was shot in Antarctic conditions, and the cast no doubt suffered.

Just keep in mind that its purpose was a hatchet job on a hero, and that Scott wasn't as bad, nor Amundsen so perfect, as the movie depicts; but both blow Cook and Peary out of the water as men of honor and greatness.

In an ideal world, Amundsen would've gotten credit for priority at the North Pole, which he wanted and deserved; and Scott would've gotten credit for the South Pole, which he deserved -- especially the way he and his men valiantly fought against the unexpected weather conditions with their then state-of-the-art (now primitive) methods. Both men deserved better than they got. And Scott deserves a better show than this. But this is the best polar drama ever, even compared to Branagh's wonderful "Shackleton".
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Excellent documentary drama
Gilly-134 July 2000
Roland Huntford's definitive saga of polar exploration, "Scott and Amundsen", is brought very faithfully to film in this 7-episode BBC series. Huntford was the former Scandinavian correspondent for London's "Observer", and his book was the first to debunk Scott's supposed heroic martyrdom.

Beautiful cinematography and several very solid performances by Sverre Anker Ousdal as the introspective and driven Amundsen; Martin Shaw nails the effete martinet, Scott; Michael Maloney is great as Scott's betrayed 2nd Officer, Teddy Evans; Toralv Maurstad as the outspoken Norwegian polar veteran, Hjalmer Johanssen; and, Richard Morant as, W.E.G. Oates, the army officer in a Navy environment and apparently the only man in Scott's party capable of independent thought.
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Splendid TV but severely biased
pliget24 January 2007
Still splendid TV but the debate on Scott has moved on. After the glorifying of the early years to buoy up a country stunned by the losses of the Boer War came the debunking by Huntford. Since then there have been many novels questioning his motives, principally by Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Susan Solomon. I have just read David Crane's excellent book which, at last, seems to provide a balanced account of a remarkable man, rooted in Victorian values but with an enquiring and open mind ahead of his time. If your interest is piqued by this film there are books galore on Scott for you to read to explore the debate for yourselves. You can even try to find The Race by Kare Holt "a writer as determined to rubbish Amundsen's reputation as Huntford was to rubbish Scott's". All in all good entertainment, especially for those who love a good anti-English polemic a la Braveheart, but don't confuse this with the truth.
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Unfairly Critical
natnce5 November 2006
If Scott was so bad as a leader, why was he entrusted with TWO important scientific expeditions to the Antarctic? Huntford's claim that Scott's career was in the doldrums and he took command of the 1901 Discovery Expedition to further it is not borne out by the fact that he was a successful torpedo officer with a high likelihood of promotion. In fact going on an expedition to the Antarctic was likely to damage his chances of promotion in 1901.

Amundsen's failings are forgotten as are the facts that Scott never set out to race to the Pole and that his expedition was primarily a scientific one. Amundsen, although a great explorer, was very lucky to have found another glacier to ascend to the Polar Plateau, without discovering the Axel Heiberg Glacier he would've had to have turned back and lost out to Scott. His initial attempt to set out in conditions of about -60 degrees resulted in frostbite to both man and dog and a permanent falling out with his second-in-command Johanssen who had advised him against it. He was an experienced Arctic explorer, but hadn't had the experience of travelling in the Antarctic interior like Scott, where the conditions are different from the Arctic.

Scott is criticized for not relying entirely on dogs, but what if he'd have taken them up the Beardmore and lost loads of them down a crevasse? It was due to nearly losing an entire team down a crevasse that he decided that it was unsafe to take dogs up the Beardmore Glacier. Prior to that incident he had seriously considered using dogs to get him to the South Pole. He originally intended to try four forms of haulage, any of which could potentially make it to the Pole. Ponies (which were used to such conditions) and manhaul had got Shackleton to within 100 miles of the Pole in 1908, dogs had been used for centuries in the Arctic and had been used to a degree in the Antarctic but not with as much success as ponies and manhaul. Motor transport had potential, but Scott did not put too much faith in it, although his motor sledges helped greatly in the early stages of the depot laying. He eventually settled on using all the varied transport means on getting the supplies as far as the foot of the Beardmore, then using manhaul from there on. He didn't set out to race, so he didn't need to get there as fast as possible, unlike Amundsen, so when he found out that Amundsen was going for the Pole he had no option to change his plans. If he had intended it as a race and to have got there as fast as possible, he would've purely used dogs.

Below normal weather conditions slowed Scott's team on the way back as the snow did not melt to provide lubrication for their skis and sledge runners. No planning could've prevented that as such conditions only occur every 35 years or so. I think you'll find that those who choose defend Scott can hardly be accused of "shallow research" or "a very limited interpretation of Scott's polar problem: that bad luck and bad weather caused his downfall". It wasn't some young and inexperienced scientist that came up with the information on the weather, but a senior and respected American meteorologist Susan Solomon. The other main refuter of Huntford's theories is Sir Ranulph Fiennes, a polar explorer with decades of experience and who also says that he doesn't sympathise with Scott. Neither of whom have any particular reason to defend Scott for patriotic or personal reasons. On the other hand, most historians for a good twenty years used Huntford's book as the basis of their research. Most of the 'Scott was a blunderer' arguments stem from Huntford, who isn't a professionally trained historian and has no experience of Antarctic travel: he is a journalist with an overwhelming hatred of Scott. He bases a lot of his 'facts' in his biography of Scott on 'intuition' and Fiennes has refuted many of these. He makes unproven arguments about Kathleen Scott and Nansen having an affair and Scott seeking glory in death as a sort of compensation for not getting to the Pole first! Huntford even says that the weather conditions were normal for the time of year (they were 10 degrees C below average), Scott tried to force Oates to go outside to his death and persuaded Bowers and Wilson to stay in the tent and die with him. He goes on to say that an irregular trip home earlier in Scott's naval career is proof of an extra-marital affair that was 'covered up'. All of the above are based on Huntford's intuition and no supporting evidence of course. Not only that but he claims that Scott wrote the final passages of his diary for the purposes of prosperity, in the full knowledge that he would die and therefore wrote them in such a way as to create a legend. He is convinced that there was some big Establishment cover-up, a conspiracy theory in other words, and that Scott's diary was edited to remove damning evidence of his incompetence and further enhance this legendary status. He hasn't so far been able to dig up any evidence of this, but as he believes it is the truth he writes it down as a fact.

Whether or not you wish to ignore the opinions of Antarctic experts for those of a journalist with a penchant for elaborating, no Antarctic experience and a big grudge, is of course a matter of choice.
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a lesson in preparation
widescreenguy3 August 2008
and teamwork and always politics.

Scott is the typical stiff upper lip brit, soldiering on in the face of adversity. The problem is the adversity comes out of the British sense of entitlement and superiority. Time and again they refuse to face the fact they don't run everything and circumstance and chance is just going to tremble in the presence of royalty wot. hip hip fap.

So Amundson has to pull a fast one to get to the Antarctic, and his approach is to make hard decisions and difficult choices, like knowing full well ahead of time the sled dogs at some point are going to be a source of food for them and the remaining dogs.

When Scott feeds the exhausted horses (which shouldn't have been there in the first place) to the men and dogs, it's viewed in far more politically correct and image palatable manner. jolly good, well on with it then. the reason the courage and determination was necessary from the British expedition is because Scott refused to accept experience based input from his subordinates. before and during the expedition.

When things go wrong, he chalks it up to bad luck or the weather or the failure of others. Amundson doesn't even have to do that because his decisions avoided the impossible situations in the first place.

watch the dramatization and decide for yourself.
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Extraordinarily well made movie that best captures the Race to the Pole
sak-5595111 March 2017
This mini series was made from the excellent book by Roland Hundford and is faithful to the meticulously researched history in that book. What the movie brings in addition is the palpable sense of being in Antarctica. It brings to life the driving ambitions of the men; the risks they took and the ruthlessness they displayed.

The story is well known: Raold Amundsen, the great Norwegian explorer (what else to call him-he had no other life; from an early age he hungered to be first in a world that was shrinking and would soon have no blank place s in the map) and Robert Scott, the British Naval officer who hungered for glory and would take it wherever he could: a failed Naval career meant he would have to make his mark elsewhere and he decide (or stumbled) into Polar exploration.

In one of the supreme ironies of history, a place that had lain inviolate through all of human history, the South Pole, was the subject of a race in 1910.

The story is told magnificently with scenes of the preparations and the planning; the personalities of the men (and one woman, Katherine Scott, Scotts wife), the scheming and fundraising and bureaucracy. But the story really comes into its own when the men arrive in the Antarctic. There the vastly better prepared and meticulously planned Norwegian party is triumphant and the criminal incompetence of Scott and his shoddy planning and inability to learn doom himself and his men to death.

I have been in Antarctica: I am a scientist who has worked there many many times and I have watched every movie and documentary there is on the continent.

This is by far the best. The cast is superb and the acting is consistently excellent. The production values are first rate: the film was shot in Canada for the outdoor scenes. Martin Shaw as Scott shows the full charm of the man in society and his weakness when confronted with problems. And Sverre Ousdal as Amundsen brings to life the tragic loneliness of the man and his driving ambition and ruthlessness. And as a bonus we have Max Von Sydow as Nansen (another legendary Norwegian explorer and scientist) an Hugh Grant as the very young Cherry Apsley-Gerard (who the wrote the magnificent book Worst Journey in the World about his experiences during that expedition)
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Superb, With Qualification
vox-sane21 January 2003
Superb drama depicting the "race" to the south pole between Scott and Amundsen. The revisionist history, based on a book by Roland Huntford, is a classic bit of iconoclasm. New evidence suggests Scott was not an inept bungler who shouldn't have led the expedition while Amundsen was a skillful Arctic and Antarctic explorer. In fact, both men were skilled in Antarctic conditions, but Scott, who planned the expedition meticulously and relying on the latest in science and technology, had a run of bad luck and Amundsen, going a route sometimes impossible, had a run of good luck. It would be interesting to see a show on this scale and with the quality of production and acting and scripts that detail Scott and Amundsen in light of new geographical discoveries that unfortunately blew Huntford's research apart.

Everyone is very good, with a mix of old hands (Stephen Moore, Max von Sydow) and rising young performers (Hugh Grant, Michael Maloney). And the cast seemed to have put themselves through a hardship to make this miniseries. It's too bad they had to show Scott as mean as well as bungling and Amundsen as too saintly and all-knowing. Amundsen lived and Scott died, but in the Antarctic the difference between success and failure is razor thin, and luck is not something either man could plan for.
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Well-made, but not always backed by the evidence
enochsneed15 February 2009
Warning: Spoilers
The first thing to say is that this is an incredibly well-mounted series. The production design and recreation of the equipment used by Scott and Amundsen is as good as that in Ealing's "Scott of the Antarctic".

Based on Huntford's infamous 'revisionist' view of one our national heroes, the series doesn't leave Amundsen immune from criticism. He raises money for a North Pole expedition from his country's government under false pretences (using the reputation of polar pioneer Nansen), intending to head South the whole time. He makes a near-disastrous early start for the pole, runs for home riding on a sledge and leaves his men to shift for themselves (this is a criticism levelled at Scott by Captain Oates). Johanssen and Prestrud only made it back by the skin of their teeth. When Johanssen had the nerve to criticise Amundsen's actions he was dropped from the polar party (he committed suicide when the expedition returned to Norway). Maybe Scott and Amundsen were alike in some ways?

There can be no doubt, however, that Amundsen planned his journey to the pole with admirable simplicity and efficiency. He truly deserved his success.

The treatment of Scott is less even-handed. From the start he is shown as a mediocre Navy-man ("no future in battleships") and a hen-pecked husband driven by his wife's ambition for a hero-husband (thankfully the series doesn't repeat Huntford's unfounded speculation about Kathleen Scott's affair with Nansen).

The real difficulties start with the final party's journey on the last stage to the pole and back. The only complete documentary evidence is Scott's journal - probably written as a literary work rather than a 'log'. Therefore, when Scott writes that "PO Evans is nearly broken down in brain and becoming impossible" what does this mean? That he was having some kind of nervous breakdown (Oates said he "lost his guts" and was behaving "like an old woman or worse"), or becoming an encumbrance who was not contributing to the team, or what? The series follows Huntford's assertion that "he gave vent to his feelings in babbling speech". There is no evidence for this. There is no evidence that it was Oates who kept up Evans's morale (the quotes above suggest Oates in fact had little sympathy with Evans). Much of this section of the series is based on what Huntford feels "must have" happened (the two most dangerous words in historical writing). As for Scott bursting into tears at the Pole (we don't even get to hear "Great God! This is an awful place!") or Bowers saying: "God save the King" with his dying breath, words fail me.

Oates's suicide is written down as the last act of a desperate man. Probably, but the manner in which it was done was the act of "an English gentleman" of the type Oates was (I personally believe in the "I may be some time" version). The series shows the physical deterioration of Scott's party very graphically after five months of hard physical work on a poor diet.

My other criticisms are that secondary characters are not well-drawn and therefore less involving (Bowers and Wilson especially). The music is generally good except where it breaks into a 1980's disco-beat for Amundsen's ascent of the Axel Heiberg glacier

So: - a very well-made production, very gripping, but too one-sided and speculative to be thought of as the "true story" of Scott's Last Expedition. Only five men can tell the truth about that.
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Don't be misled -- I Want to reiterate
canuckteach14 March 2020
This is my 2nd review. My first was around 2011, and I had occasion to re-read it & all the others. After doing so, I am back to warn you: a few reviews here (esp. the guy who doled out 3 or 4 stars) are underscored by the same arrogance that gets you killed when you undertake dangerous journeys with the wrong mindset.

To begin with, WATCH the mini-series. I got mine from Amazon. It's a nice box set. I also read Huntford's book, the basis for the screenplay-and it lambasted the British thoroughly for carelessness & arrogance.

This series does not paint Amundsen as a kindly saint, nor does it gloss over his errors. It does show clearly that he was an excellent 'Project Manager', experienced in winter travel and in dealing with dogs. After all, it is cold and snowy in Norway. They deal with pack dogs there. Where in blazes would Scott learn that stuff? It rains all year in England-it doesn't snow much. Anyway, he was a ship captain, not a professional explorer. And, as it is shown, his seafaring record was not unblemished. What he was: a good writer. His diary was a romantic, flattering account of an English gentleman-no doubt, as genial as the Officer who wrote about the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Dashing? Yes.. but 60,000 casualties. Well, with Scott, we only get 5.

Anyway, this non-specific stuff about 'recent evidence' AFTER Huntford's book was written... what could that be? Apparently, it is that the Antarctic was 9 degrees colder than 'normal' on Scott's return trip. Heard it all before-it's not 'new'. Someone is trying to 'snow' you: the Antarctic is always cold (despite the rare mild weather reported in Feb-2020). Amundsen came back briskly, with dogs. His team gained weight on the return trip. Scott's men were on foot, man-hauling their loads, and underfed. The series shows that clearly.

There is no rational reason to rate this series anything under 9, except pure Anglo-Saxon sentimentality. Well, guess what? That's what got Scott killed in the first place.

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Compelling Drama
neverthereever13 April 2017
I first saw this on the original broadcast dates back in the Eighties. It's a fantastic series, showing Many well known (and not so known at the time) British actors outside of their usual Genre.

Martin Shaw as Scott Slyvester McCoy as Bowers. Bill Nighy as Meares Hugh Grant as Cherry-Garrard

THe whole series is view-able on you tube in something like 10 minute clips.

Unfortunately the howling over the reputation of Scott as portrayed in the Book this drama is based upon seems to have overshadowed the conversion of the book to the screen. The author's work is heavily biased against Scott as to how wrongly or rightly depends on how much spin from each side a reader is prepared to accept. I would recommend enjoying the screen adaption of the book as exactly that and if you care to look deeper into the historical story, read more than the book this is based on.
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Race to South Pole
berberian00-276-6908511 September 2016
This Movie has not been available in DVD format, at least I watched it from TV download with the whole seven episodes /6h 36min/. Another Movie, "Shackleton" (2002), which comes as continuation to South Pole Race was also released as TV Mini-Series but not circulating as DVD. Both Films are rare cinematographic achievement, shot in Greenland and the vicinity. No special effects are employed and Polar Nature is shot the way it is - unspoiled but alien and menacing. Temperatures are 50 degree below zero, with blizzards, ice breaking, starvation, disorientation, freezing and death. Compromise is impossible between Polar Glaciers and Man. It's battle for survival at the utmost, watch it.

I read the reviews and I am impressed. The IMDb doesn't give more titles dealing with Polar Exploration and whether there are many documentaries built on the same subject is out of scope for this review. Baseline story follows the narrative from Roland Huntford's book "Last Place On Earth" published 1979, with several revised and updated editions. Shackleton's heroism from the second movie is also beyond doubt. It is not clear whether scenario has used another Roland Huntford story. One thing is clear that for 1914-1916 expedition Ernest Shackleton approached the Antarctica continent via Tiera del Fuego of Latin America and then into the Weddell Sea. Scott and Amundsen, on the other hand, made their access from New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania - proceeding way into Ross Sea and then camping in their bases some hundred miles apart, McMurdo Sound and Whales Bay. Details on the whole race with Scott-Amundsen comparison is available in Wikipedia.

Now let's try to make the long story short. Nobody is guilty that Robert Scott and his party of five perished. Scott knew that Amundsen was brewing something in Madeira. He had talked to Nansen, who told him that Amundsen had borrowed his ship "Fram" and intended to attack the Poles. When Scott learned that a rival expedition had come along he lost his nerves. Following events could be traced step-by-step and still the winner is unequivocal. Strongman Amundsen won the race by four weeks. His outward track was safe and he made it to Tasmania. Scott conquered the South Pole but couldn't make it homeward. He and his crew died ice-locked in a tent eleven miles from the nearest depot.

Amundsen was the best explorer from late Age of Discoveries. He represents the ideal Nordic type - a real Viking of Modern Times. Some thought Amundsen was crazy enough to do all these exploits. Look at his biography in the forthcoming 20 years. He first went through the NW passage (1903-1906). He made west-east transit of NE passage with new ship "Maud" where he adopted two Chukchi girls then dismissed them (1918-1920). He reached the North Pole again with airship "Norge", a dirigible constructed by Italian Umberto Nobile (1926). Last, two years later, at age 56 he dashed forward to save his friend Nobile who crashed over the pole with "Norge". Mussolini didn't wanted him to make the rescue flight but Amundsen took a French seaplane for private mission and perished in sky. Nobile and the castaways were saved by Russian ice-breaker "Krasin". Well, that's it ...
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Excellent if not accurate
annastives23 March 2013
I first saw "The Last Place on Earth" back when it was first broadcast in the U.S. Having just finished Roland Huntford's "Scott and Amundsen" at that time, I thought the mini-series was terrific.

While I still agree with those who think that it was excellent, I now question the series's accuracy. My chief criticism has to do with the characterization of the two men as representing two different social classes and the characterization of Amundsen as someone who would say that his emotion upon reaching the Pole was joy in simply being alive. He was a darker, more complex, and more ambitious man than he is shown to be. By the same token, Scott was not an upper-class twit. The race for the Pole was not a class war.

The other reviews have covered many of the other ways in which the accuracy of the series could be criticized. There have been many facts uncovered which were not available to Huntford and the series. But how often does one get to immerse oneself for hours in a film about Antarctic history? The pleasures of the series make me overlook its errors.

I wish someone would make a film of Ted Tally's play "Terra Nova."
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Historically inaccurate
jfberridge19 February 2008
What a travesty of yet again Hollywood and those desperate to make a quick buck! I by no means deny the fact that Scott was a flawed man, sensitive and prone to depression but this depiction is truly awful and based upon one of the worst biographies by Huntford. If you want to read a real biography of Scott read Ranulphs Fiennes book – written by a man who's actually been to Antartica, shock, horror! Huntford himself has admitted in interviews that he imagined Scott staring at Oates till he left and even the very landscape of the Poles. If you're happy to take all his words as facts and not consider any other opinions then this really is the film for you. Recent weather takings of the area show a 10c dip in the temperature at that point so it's a wonder they got as far as they did. It's not about having a stiff upper lip it's about being able to separate fact from fiction and not accepting one biography as truth. That's naive and bad film making is a result.
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