Band of Brothers

Over the last few days I’ve been partaking of my landlord’s DVD collection, which consists entirely of 2001’s Band of Brothers. I saw bits when it went out, but not the whole thing – and it’s mightily impressive. Certainly, more convincing as a story and as a group of characters than Saving Private Ryan, and just as unpleasant. Which, in this context, is a good thing. Large parts of it are closer to combat than I ever wish to come.

Several aspects stand out. Episode six follows a medic; focussing on an ordinary individual to illuminate extraordinary circumstances is the oldest dramatic trick in the book for good reason – it works. Episode nine ‘Why we Fight’ is hauntingly powerful, as the Company stumble across a concentration camp, but such hindsight does concern me. It’s why we should have fought, but unless my grasp of the history is defective, it was regrettably not part of why we did fight. Telling ourselves now that we were purely doing the right thing then strikes me as dangerous; the Holocaust is Europe’s shame, not just Germany’s. We do ourselves no favours to gloss over that unpalatable truth.

The last episode is disconcertingly like that of any other drama serial, filling us in on what happened next to the characters we’ve grown to care about. I guess we need to know, but it’s a disappointingly gentle ending to what’s been a brutal, uncompromising, but surprisingly even-handed portrayal.

But in the end the whole thing hangs together astonishingly, and not just because the (true) story is so awesome. It hangs together because you genuinely believe the actors you’re watching are an initially green but increasingly battle-hardened unit. They move, act, think, give and take orders in a way I’ve not seen on screen before. Watch the ‘making of’ featurette, but more importantly the video diaries from the actors’ ‘boot camp.’ It’s astonishing – the speed with which they fall into their parts, particularly Damian Lewis moving from lanky British actor to natural leader Lt. Winters. Genuinely a stand-out performance.

It’s an unpleasant series to watch, in many ways. I’m glad I’ve seen it; it’s well worth the investment of time.

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