Bringing the First World War to the big and small screens has been a challenge that few have successfully conquered. Those that have worked have shaped British memory of the war.
Today war is exposed by the glare of a ubiquitous media, but the First World War was a slaughter largely hidden from public view. It is often only through fictional, dramatised re-telling that the stories of millions of soldiers can be heard. Here are 6 of the best:
1. BBC Timewatch 2000: Douglas Haig – The Unknown Soldier
This series argued both sides of the Haig debate, causing public outrage. Gary Sheffield received death threats for defending Haig, demonstrating that public opinion in 2000 was still not ready to accept Haig.
2. BBC television series 1964: The Great War Series
Written by John Terraine and Corelli Barnett, this series examined and dissected British memory of the war.
3. BBC television series 1989: Blackadder Goes Forth
Richard Curtis & Ben Elton’s opus was another key influence on British memory of the war, reinforcing in particular the ‘lions led by donkeys’ interpretation.
4. Australia’s war film: Beneath Hill 60
Jeremy Simms 2010 work analyses Australian war memory.
5. BBC television series 1986: The Monocled Mutineer
A four-part serial criticised for its ‘left-wing bias’, the Monocled Mutineer dramatises the life of Percy Toplis, a British deserter.
6. Richard Attenborough film 1969: Oh! What a Lovely War
Attenborough’s musical film provides a general commentary on the war, using popular contemporary songs and allegorical settings.