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One of David Jason's Best Dramas
on 9 September 2007
The true story of a battalion formed from the workers of the Sandringham estate in 1914 is told here in a thoughtful production which illustrates the perceived glory of war which is quickly shattered by the reality of fighting.
David Jason gives one of his best performances as Capt Frank Beck - the head keeper of the Royal estates who drills his troop of young men, many of whom he has known since they were born, into a fighting unit ready for the glory of the First World War. The King is not keen to lose Frank to the fighting, but, even in his 50's, Frank is determined to go and lead his men and he finds an ally in the Dowager Queen Alexandra (Maggie Smith).
In a touching scene, before departure, Frank meets a friend whose son is severly disabled following action at the front and it begins to dawn on Cpt Beck that it may not be the valiant battle that he and his men expect. 14 year old friends on the estate are keen to do their bit, but when one proudly becomes a telegram boy, his friend lies about his age to join the regiment. Cpt Beck allows the boy to travel with the estate workers.
Husbands, fathers, brothers, boyfriends - every available man sets off to Galipoli where Frank is stunned at the shambolic base camp, inaccurate maps, poor supplies and chronic dysentary that his lads must endure. And when it comes to battle, the tactic is simply to walk, in a straight line, towards the enemy....an enemy which cannot be seen but is in an ideal position to pick off the approaching troops.
The story revolves around the apparent 'vanishing' of the Sandringham Company and the attempts by those left behind to learn what happened. Grieving relatives hoped that the men were held prisoner. To this day, the actual events are not clear, but the tale that they 'vanished into a mist' is clearly not accurate and Queen Alexandra is determined to find out the truth. But will her adviser find any answers in peacetime - and is it in the interests of a country torn apart by war to learn of such a waste of life?
A truly moving drama with cracking performances from the entire cast, this is a top class BBC production. Included on the dvd is a 30 minute documentary, narrated by Prince Edward and filmed largely at Sandringham and including much archive material, which attempts to tell the viewer what really happened - and this explanation is woven into the preceding drama.
A story of the futility of war, this is a solid drama which is well worth purchasing.