May 18, 2003
An excellent documentary

Last week I posted a piece about how films about famous battles might be better done. I've now just watched a very good documentary, which was first shown last October but which I was seeing tonight for the first time, about the Battle of El Alamein. It was written and fronted by Peter Snow and by his son Daniel. Peter Snow told of the big decisions and the big strategic and battlefield agonisings, as befitted his age, while son Daniel related what it was like for the poor bloody infantry, tankers, gunners, minefield clearers, etc., ditto. It could have been ghastly, but Dan is obviously going to be just as much of a broardcasting pro as his Dad is and I thought it worked fine.

Concerning what I said in my previous post about how the drama genre and the documentary genre need to merge, and how documentaries need to make more serious use of actors, they used (young) actors in this documentary to tell the story from the point of view of the average soldier, as if telling the story just after the battle had ended. Maps, commentary, practical demonstrations of the difficulties of clearing mines, shots of the same landscape filmed now, all merged very well to tell the story with great clarity. As one who has read a lot about this battle over the years, I still managed to learn a lot, in the sense that it was all pulled together into a single story for me better than ever before. At first I thought that the computer graphics were going to be needlessly fussy and trixy, but once the battle got seriously underway, that mostly stopped.

Nevertheless, when they finally do make a decent drama-documentary about Alamein, they'll have to have an actor doing Monty (what a part!). And others doing Auchinleck, Lumsden, Rommel, and the rest of them.

Just as interesting as what this documentary did contain was what it did not. There was no attempt to downgrade the importance or the bravery of what the soldiers had done. There was no "revisionism". No campaigning for peace, other than noting how terrible it must be to get burnt to death in a tank. There was just an important story, clearly and vividly told.

It was interesting also, in this age of multi-national production deals and global audiences, that full credit was given to the contributions of the non-English (such as the Scots) and the non-British (Australians, New Zealanders, Indians, etc.). Special mention was, in particular, made of the contribution made to the winning of Alamein by the Australians, who made the vital attack in the extreme north after the first attack in the north had been stalled.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:40 PM
Category: HistoryTV