Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Band of Brothers

Way back, almost three years ago, Mr Click and I got married and were given some Amazon vouchers to celebrate. Being practical people we put them towards Band of Brothers on blu-ray at my recommendation (I'd seen it once before). It arrived (in a lovely presentation tin), we put it on our bookcase, and never actually seemed to get around to watching it.

Well, we finally got around to it a few weeks back. I'd totally forgotten how much I love this series. It's so well made that you just get sucked into the story. For those of you who aren't familiar with the series it basically follows the guys in 'Easy Company', an American Paratrooper regiment during the Second World War, beginning with their training. It's only ten episodes long and we managed to watch it within a fortnight (pretty much one episode a night on weeknights for two weeks); each episode runs to about an hour long with two running slightly longer than the rest.

Each episode is like a full on war movie, it's produced by Steven Spielburg and Tom Hanks, so I suppose it's to be expected really. It's brutal and violent and there's no softening of the realities of war. You get attached to a character only to lose them midway through the series, or see them fall apart as one by one their friends die.

What gives it so much impact is that at the beginning of each episode there are a few words from a few old guys. They talk about what life was actually like during the war, what their part in it was; it's quite heartbreaking watching them tear up as they remember fallen comrades and the awful things they experienced as young men. Because these aren't just 'a few old guys', they're the real people who experienced the events in that episode.

It's made even more effective by the fact that they don't actually name these men. You come to realise that they are the people you're seeing played by actors but you don't know which ones they are. You know who they aren't based on who survives certain episodes but it's not revealled who they actually are until the very end of the series. In some respects it's nice to see that they made it through, they survived and they went on to live, comparatively, normal lives. On the other hand, something about it made my chest hurt, watching these men talk about what they went through and seeing them as old men talking about their grandchildren, realising that so many didn't come home to have the same experiences.

Of all of the episodes two stand out as my favourites. The first is the very first episode 'Currahee' which follows the training of the group and their preparations for D-Day. It shows how they come together to form a proper team. I especially like a bit where one of the men is sent off to run alone and a group of other men from Easy Company run up alongside him to help him keep going.

The other episode which sticks in my mind is the penultimate one, 'Why We Fight'. It's mostly told in flashback and it's really powerful. I dare anyone to try and watch it without wanting to shed a tear. The company come across a concentration camp, totally harrowing, as they liberate the camp and try to provide food and support for the men abandoned there, then realise that they'll have to return them to the camp until they have somewhere to send them. It's something that I struggle to comprehend, just understanding how people could do that to one another.

I wish that something like this had been out when I was studying World War II at school. It was a really good way to show the human aspect of the war; what the men themselves went through. While I'm aware of various historical inaccuracies, on the whole I think it was well researched and I'm quite keen to read the books that helped to inspire it.

"I treasure my remark to my grandson who asked, "Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?"
Grandpa said, "No... but I served in a company of heroes".

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