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The World at War Review

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by Simon Crust Apr 1, 2005 at 12:00 AM

    When is a documentary, not a documentary? When it is the most moving, factual based program about one of the darkest times in human history; in short The World at War.

    When the Second World War, Came to an end

    Jeremy Issacs, the series producer, tells us the story of the programs conception, in a one hour special included on the first disc. The concept is brilliantly obvious; tell the story of the Second World War by the people who were actually there; to be as factually correct as possible; present those facts without bias, leaving the viewer to make up their own minds as the events unfold. Using a combination of authentic news reel footage (a painstaking process to remove all the fake, propaganda film) and interviews with actual participants, from ex-army command, ex-members of Parliament and ordinary members of the public of all 'sides', the result is 26 episodes of the most startling television documentary that is both moving and informative, and remains the benchmark by which all other TV documentaries are measured.

    We forgave the Germans, And we were friends

    Even at this length, not everything that happened could possibly be included, so the approach was taken for each 'episode' to take a specific key theme, event or campaign starting with the rise of Nazi Germany, to Hitler's eventual downfall through to the beginning of the Cold War. This first volume charts the rise of Hitler's Nazi regime, through the first months of the War, May to September of 1940, France's defeat, the bombing of London, through to Germany's invasion of Russia, with the last two 'episodes' concentrating on the Japanese involvement and the American initial philosophy . Later in the series time was then taken to look at the ramification of such a devastating War and the remembrance of those fallen. Narration, though kept to a minimum, is provided by Sir Laurence Olivier, whose presence provides gravitas to this unique poignant television program.

    Though they murdered six million, In the ovens they fried

    Watching the events unfold with the benefit of hindsight, it is quite astounding how this War came about, particularly Hitler's rise to power, this first 'episode' having an almost sinister feel to it. On to the first campaigns, and the propaganda employed by the warring factions used to inspire or demoralise as was necessary, and the startling fact that during the first three months more Britons were killed during the blackouts than in combat. It is blindingly obvious that nothing was learnt from the First World War; in fact warfare had become a far more civilian affair. Whereas in WWI a family might receive a telegram from the front informing them of their son/father's death, in WWII the soldiers were just as likely to receive a telegram informing them of their families' demise during a bombing raid. The news cameras too, were there to record events as they unfolded, something that still happens today, though the technology may have advanced it appears human grievance has not. Each 'episode' has some narrative part that will touch the audience in some way. In a War that finished 65 years ago, meaning that many of its participants are now no longer with us and fewer and fewer people are left that have genuine memories of the facts; the importance of this documentary cannot be stressed enough; we have to remember the sacrifices made, not just by the soldiers, but by everyone involved. Last remembrance Sunday TV interviews with collage students professed to ignorance about Auschwitz; to them I say watch the World at War; forever should it remain in our collections and in our thoughts.

    The Germans now too, Have God on their side.