The Last Place On Earth is a now forgotten British mini-series that's worth remembering. Based on Roland Huntford's still controversial myth-shattering biography of Scott and Amundsen's race to the South Pole, it's the kind of thing which would be done in a rushed 2-3 hours at most today, but in 1985 got more than twice that running time over seven episodes. The benefits are amazing. It may take three episodes for the rivals to hit Antarctic waters, but Trevor Griffiths' excellent script, despite a few liberties with history, chronology and supporting characters (particularly Frederick Cook, himself prone to dramatic license), has enough room for its characters' flaws and virtues to be fully explored and quietly builds up real involvement. Martin Shaw's Scott gets most of the flaws, though the show doesn't go quite so overboard with them as Huntford's book (to be fair, Scott's pomposity and ability to repeat disastrous mistakes gave him lots of ammo). But despite being played rather superbly with a charismatic twinkle in his eye by Sverre Anker Ousdal, Amundsen isn't perfect either, as his disastrously mismanaged false start and his jealousy and antagonism toward a more famous member of his expedition demonstrate. Although the story doesn't allow it to be explored, the final episode contains plenty of hints of the bitter man he would eventually become as his victory was increasingly overshadowed by the `glory' of Scott's failure.
Ferdinand Fairfax's direction is impressively cinematic, one episode boasting a complex uninterrupted travelling take that's almost up there with Touch of Evil if only on a technical level. There's a lot of familiar British actors when they were still little-knowns among the supporting cast - Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy, Michael Maloney, Pat Roach, Richard Wilson and one of the lesser Dr Whos, Sylvester McCoy (excellent here) among them - as well as the one-time star of guilty pleasure Song of Norway, Toralv Maurstead, looking considerably older than his years as an ill-starred member of Amundsen's expedition (for once, with the exception of Max Von's Sydow's Nansen, the Norwegians are played by real Norwegians). Per Theodor Haugen also makes his mark as Amundsen's brother, constantly left to deal with the details and itinery of the everyday life the explorer cannot deal with. There are a couple of moments that don't really work - Scott glimpsing what he thinks is a cross at Cape Evans where his own memorial would later stand is shot far too literally and the very 80s rock scoring of Amundsen crossing the mountains to the plateau is horribly sub-Chariots of Fire - and none of Amundsen's team on the Polar trek itself ever become characters in their own right, but they're minor flaws. This has a 9.4 rating on the IMDB. It earned it.
Thankfully, unlike some recent mini-series releases, the NTSC release hasn't been crudely cropped in fake widescreen but is in its original fullframe ratio, with all seven episodes presented with opening and closing titles over three discs. The quality isn't demo standard, but that's partially down to the original filmstock that was used (its look is typical of 70s-80s British TV), although the picture quality is noticeably sharper in the last two episodes. No extras.