25 February 2008 | eschetic-1
Exhaustive but biased documentary disappoints despite high promise
I was eagerly looking forward to this ten episode, four DVD set (8 hours and 23 minutes in all) based on the claims on the box of previously unseen film footage and newly accessible archival material from Central and Eastern European sources and most especially the ties to a book by a "professor" (presumably of history - Hew Strachan). Unfortunately, as assembled (in an initially promising chronological format) by BBC 4, there is little or no pretense of objective history and far too many omissions and distortions in the service of a strictly British viewpoint. The over all effect, despite copious quotations from participants on all sides, is like a history of World War II's "D-Day" told entirely from Field Marshall Montgomery's aide de camp's viewpoint.
The vast majority of film footage (mostly acknowledged - but not some of the obvious naval model work; possibly from faked "newsreels"?) is from 1920's and 30's film reconstructions and fictionalizations mixed with color footage of locales as they look today. While there is interesting period movie footage, it is almost all behind the lines and of close-up non-action scenes and TV cameras scanning across still photos.
One of the single most desired sequences, the final newsreel footage of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand leaving the Serajevo City Hall moments before his assassination, is only shown in the abbreviated and already much circulated cut. The reasons for Franz Ferdinand - a fascinating, complex figure given very short shrift here (and his Sophie) being in Bosnia that day (their 14th Wedding Anniversary) are totally omitted - as are any understanding of his reigning Uncle, Emperor Franz Joseph at the head of a great multi-cultural empire or the reasons the majority of Moslem Bosnia was opposed to Eastern Orthodox Serbian pretensions over their territory since both broke away from the shrinking Ottoman Empire.
Once the war itself started (you will be hard pressed to understand why from the sketchy story told here), the British documentary almost entirely ignores the original combatants but focuses on the British and their conflict with Austria's unsubtle allies in Germany.
Because of the British confrontations (to their considerable discomfort) with the Ottoman Turk, much time is spent on this front, allowing at least rudimentary (and that's about all) discussion of the source of the continuing Armenian question in Episode Four, but even here, there is almost no followable line of the way the Ottoman wobbled in and out of the war until finally committing to the Central Powers following the second Russian Revolution in 1917, removing them from the war. There is even less discussion of impact of the tenuous Japanese alliance with the Russians and British springing from the settlement of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.
A far better look at the complexity of World War I (although neither attempt or claim to be as complete in the material covered), with far more actual footage from the period in question is available in several documentaries ranging from Hollywood GOES TO WAR to WORLD WAR I IN COLOR. This Anglophile attempt at history is only for the dedicated Anglophile looking for entertainment pretending to be serious, not the serious amateur historian who will see too many holes spoiling the fun.