on 8 March 2004
This is probably the best documentary on the subject since the 1960's series 'The Great War'. It attempts to explain and highlight the tactics and strategy's employed in the conflict and is both revisionist and traditional in its interpretation of events. Its clever use of letters and diaries of the time helps to produce a sense of the time for the viewer. Although unseen footage of the period is now hard to come by this series does manage to include some previously unseen pictures.
The series will be useful to anyone interested in British and/or military history. A very good aid for the pupil at school learning about the Great War just as for the graduate.
on 22 April 2006
I have now seen these DVDs twice and they have been send twice also on Danish Televisions DR2 programme. I think that they are very good and worthwile buying.
They give a great introduction to the First World War and with only ten episodes you can't expect more. Another reader here compares it to BBCs Great War of the 1960s, and of course that series was more detailed because it was a seventeen and half hours epic!
The big advantage of the present series is that it has a modern touch showing the places as of today and very good maps, which are normally lacking in DVDs on the First and Second World Wars.
Strachans also brings home that the First World War was a true world war by describing and analysing the events outside of the Europe and the Western Front. I agree although with the other reviewers that he should have put a little more emphasis on the main events on the main theatres of war than he did.
But the only thing I really wonder about is when the two other volumes are coming in his three part book series on OUP. The account is very good although the maps are awful. They only show you the places, and not the fronts or the armies. That is hopefully gonna change in the upcoming volumes.
The 1960's BBC series, "The Great War" is more definitive than this latest production. Examples where there is lack of completeness are the Verdun and Somme campaigns which are compressed into one episode. The Eastern Front which was cataclysmic from a Russian perspective is also sparsely covered. This is undoubtedly an unbalanced production in terms of the importance of the action versus the time spent on the aspect covered. If one requires a definitive documentary on this war, rather purchase the BBC version but this production being more than 40 years old, although excellent, is rather dated in style.
In contrast in this DVD little known actions are covered in a disproportional amount of detail. No other video covers aspects such as the campaign in the ex-German colonies such as German East Africa [now Tanzania] & German South West Africa [now known as Namibia]. The German attempts to incite the Islamic world into anti British & Russian actions are also covered quite comprehensively.
Even though the aforementioned aspects are treated at the expense of more important parts of the war, it does add a new dimension to a war which otherwise comprised an unremitting series of artillery bombardments, machine guns scything down lines of soldiers "going over the top" & battles which are similar to one another & which in the facetious words of Rowan Atkinson a la Black Adder merely resulted in General Haig's drink's table moving one yard nearer to Berlin.
The style is a balance between three presentation styles. The backbone are videos many of them new to this reviewer. These are interwoven with extracts of diaries from eye witnesses. This provides a sense of immediacy. It would have been preferable to use the testimony of the actual eye witnesses but given the effluxion of time this was probably not possible. The third component of the style is the use of contemporary & current views of the same scene. This certainly provides an additional dimension to this production. The blend of these three styles does provide renewed interest in the subject.
Overall this is an excellent production & deserves to be purchased but bear in mind that a comprehensive account is not possible within a 10 hour production. For those who have all the currently available videos on this war, this DVD covers certain neglected aspects & for those who are neophytes to the subject it will give one a feel for the combatants, style of warfare & modus operandi.
on 23 February 2012
This series is a fine introduction to the First World War. It is important, however, to be aware that this series emphasizes certain aspects of the war but does not give a clear overview of the military course of the war on the ground. Here, there is a lot of time given over to how individuals, leaders and common people perceived the war but the actual conduct of operations is glossed over.
The series is to be praised for bringing to light formerly obscure aspects of the war such as the Ottoman struggle against the Russians which is usually ignored because it was not really strategically significant as was the conflict between the Ottomans and the British in the south. The Armenian tragedy is discussed at some length showing that Turkish atrocities against Armenian civilians was a consequence of military operations in the war and not merely a mindless ethnic persecution. The untenable situation of the Jews in Eastern Europe who were caught between the three different empires which led to expulsion, impoverishment and pogroms is discussed at length showing that these roots in the First World War were merely the prelude to even worse to come.
The most significant novelty of this series is that they go to great lengths to show that the view that the war was not merely a "senseless slaughter" and that the Generals were NOT all a bunch of stupid, arrogant men indifferent to the welfare and fate of their men. The film points out that dozens of Generals on both sides were killed in the war sharing the fate of the men at the front line, so it is wrong to picture them all as aloof people who spent their time at a chateau behind the lines. The series points out that the technology that existed at the beginning of the war led to the stalemate in the trenches and that the Allied military leaders worked assiduously to find ways to break the stalement and that they did learn from their failures, which is what led them ultimately to victory.
It is also pointed out that many if not most soldiers and civilians behind the lines believed in their cause, were willing to fight for their country and the Allied soldiers believed that it was important for the future of liberal democracy that the militarist Germans be defeated. It is true that the war did spawn a lot of nihilistic movements and the war brutalized society making the even greater horrors of the Second World War but the final episode ends on the note that the war did prove to a lot of people that military action can provide solutions to problems for good and for bad and this has been seen in places like the Middle East and the Balkans to this day.
Thus, as I stated above this series is a good introduction to the war, but someone who is interested should pursue other series made in the past, e.g. the BBC's "The Great War" and CBS's "World War I" narrated by Robert Ryan, both of which were made for the 50th anniversary of the start of the war in 1964 and both of which give a clearer outline of the military operations of the war.
As a final note, I like the fact that the film shows modern views of locations seen in the archive films. For example we see photo of the Kaiser, Hindenburg and Ludendorff standing in a doorway at the hotel Britannique (ironical name, isn't it?) which was their Western Front Headquarters. The film then switches to a modern view of the same doorway in color....I found this an effective way to bring these events of the past into our modern conciousness. They also have a rare recording of the Kaiser speaking and we also see him gardening as a elderly man in exile in Holland. These are special historical "treats" I have not seen anywhere else.
on 6 October 2004
Great coverage of the causes of the war and the often overlooked actions in China, the Middle East, Italy and the Eastern Front. However quite disappointing that both Verdun and the Somme battles are compressed into just two thirds of one 50 minute episode and the 'Race for the Sea' and the first, second and third battles of Ypre are omitted altogether.
Overall a very good series but I would recommend that viewers supplement the content by reading Hew Strachan's books on which it is based.
on 6 June 2012
The BBC's 1964 series "The Great War" is a much better introduction to the war. The main claims to fame of this production are that it contains original color footage ("The Great War" is all black and white), and that it focuses a lot on underrepresented aspects of the conflict, such as the war in Africa. However, this latter point is of little interest to a newcomer looking for a basic introduction, and it makes the overall flow of the story hard to follow. Another point in this series is to film the original locations as they are today - which ends up meaning a lot of guys with weird haircuts and designer jeans sipping lattes, and this is actually detrimental to setting the historic tone.
The maps are not very good and the coverage of major battles and sequences of battles is rushed and missing important facts.
I do give some stars for the color footage, which is fascinating.
on 11 January 2014
This is a re-release of the 2003 series, originally distributed by Channel 4 and now timed to coincide with the anniversary of the First World War. It constitutes 10 episodes, each running for 50 minutes.
1. To Arms - the origins of the War
2. Under the Eagle - the German invasion of Belgium and France
3. Global War - the spread of the war to the imperial colonies
4. Jihad - the Ottoman Empire's war
5. Shackled to a Corpse - the Eastern and Italian fronts
6. Breaking the Deadlock - the stalemate on the Western Front
7. Blockade - the war at sea
8. Revolution - the Easter Rising, Arab Uprising, French mutiny and Russian Revolution
9. Germany's Last Gamble - the Spring Offensives and the collapse of morale among the Central Powers
10. War Without End - the Hundred Days Offensives and subsequent Armistice
Inevitably covering such a vast topic in such a brief period forces some short-cuts: battles such as Ypres and Passchendale, the fall of Baghdad and the Vardar Offensive are merely glossed; Lemberg, the Brusilov Offensive and Vittorio Veneto are not even mentioned. The narrative emphasises the human experience, and is successful in offering a broad perspective from both soldiers and civilians, from Ireland to Armenia. The documentary places the war in a global context and offers a balanced analysis although it keeps one eye on subsequent events (the viewer will share some moments of hindsight). Although it borrows from Satie, Orlando Gough's score is weak.
Overall, this is a very good introduction to the Great War, fairly comprehensive and objective. Students and those new to the subject will find it both helpful and fascinating.
on 13 January 2006
This is a very odd thing: a history of the Great War made self-consciously without reference to those who were there. Certainly, there were too few survivors to have formed the basis for a new account of the war. All the same, it is a pretty strange selling-point. The series is constructed from the work of Hew Strachan, which suggests another problem. Strachan is the author of a three-part series on the war for OUP, except that, so far, that's a three-part series with only one part. The book on which this series is really based is his much more slender tome "The First World War". If the magnum opus contains no more insights than the one-volume history, it's hardly going to be worth the wait (writing about the First World War is a lot more time-consuming than fighting it, you see). If, on the other hand, Strachan has kept radical new ideas up his sleeve for the main work, this series is going to be left high and dry. As it is, the series covers some aspects of the war quite well, but is desperately patchy overall. To shoe-horn the whole thing into ten parts, big sacrifices have been made. Strachan, however, has (to mix metaphors) quite a few bees buzzing around in his bonnet and these seem to have been considered sacrosanct. The coverage of the effects of the war on Africa is good, but clearly came at the expense of analysis of other areas. Turkey's role in the conflict is covered quite well, but should Turkey really get more attention than Russia? The account of the Eastern Front is impressionistic to the point of incoherence. It's all very well wanting to shed light on neglected subjects, but what use is that, unless the light is shed evenly? German commerce-raiders are interesting, but, in the scheme of things, insignificant, but they get far more attention than Germany's submarines, which might have won the war for the Kaiser and, as things were, had an immense impact on life in Great Britain and Ireland. Another reviewer has rightly remarked on the way in which the Ypres battles are overlooked, but the approach is actually even worse than that. Both Second Ypres (1915) and Third Ypres (better known as Passchendaele, 1917) are mentioned, but only in the most oblique way. Indeed, I believe that the one and only reference to Passchendaele in the series is a single word, "Flanders". This is clearly deployed on the assumption that viewers will recognise the allusion. So, here we have a series about the First World War aimed, apparently, at people who already know all about the First World War. Don't buy this unless you already have (and have watched, from start to finish) the magisterial series "The Great War", from the 1960s. Yes, "The Great War" has its flaws, too, but it is incomparably superior to this. Oh, and this is at pains to argue that Germany got into war by accident in 1914. Applied to the ordinary German, that is true, no doubt, but to say that the Kaiser and his staff did nothing to make war more likely in 1914 is plain wrong.
on 30 July 2014
I also have the BBC's Great War.... this isn't as comprehensive but it's really very well done.
The photography is excellent and the narration is appropriate to the subject, without the "Crash Bang Wallop" of some of the more histrionic and not historical programmes on the subject.
All wars are tragic but this was on a scale that should never be forgotton...no matter how often our species repeats the folly.
on 27 May 2014
An excellent series,particularly as it is based on the Hew Strachan book on the same subject. The remarkable thing to me was that so much of the early action, setting the scene, the areas and countries involved were the same as we hear and see daily now on the news screens. For example Crimea, Syria, Bosnia,Aleppo,Kut.Ukraine. Almost like History repeating itself. Make sure you get THIS history and series as there are a lot of them about this Centenary year. My mind was muddled about the origins of this war,the assassination etc..but I now have a much better idea,thanks to this work.