9 March 2014 | TheEtiquette
The phenomenal Ian McDiarmid versus a cartoonish cavalcade of Continental caricatures
37 Days is an informative, well-paced, even thrilling piece of historical drama with some superb performances from the best of the British. Its approach to the causes of the First World War is both entertaining and educational. However, there are some problems which prevent this mini-series from becoming a true classic.
The greatest problem is that almost all character who are not British are portrayed in a manner most cartoonish; from the German Kaiser to Austrian and French ambassadors all non-British characters are ridiculously over-the-top caricatures, more ludicrous than the characters in Oh! What a Lovely War. And Lovely War is a musical parody.
I can't but wonder why a production which pays so much attention to detail and is slavishly faithful to historical facts makes its characters look one-dimensional caricatures? Especially when all the British characters are portrayed as completely normal and there is true emotion and humanity in the scenes taking place in London. Is portraying the Continental characters as buffoons some kind of a statement or a lousy attempt at comedy by the British production team? In this respect 37 Days brings to mind the Nazi version of Titanic in 1943 where all the English characters are baddies and the German one saves the day. (Another point which bothers me is the portrayal of the last Russian tsar Nicholas II. In this he is shown as an aggressive and stern military man rather than the sensitive and simple family man portrayed in every single film and history book concerning this topic. Could it be that the production team has confused Nicholas II with his father Alexander III because the character in 37 Days truly looks and acts like Alexander?)
Nevertheless, 37 Days is a fresh take on the First World War and includes some wonderful performances. Absolutely phenomenal is Ian McDiarmid as Sir Edward Grey who truly brings realism and humanity to the production which is in places in a danger of becoming a parody because of its cartoonish cavalcade of Continental caricatures or a boring history lesson since all the scenes take place in cabinet meeting rooms. Other great performances are delivered by Bill Paterson, Sinéad Cusack, Nicholas Farrell and Tim Pigott-Smith, to name a few.