I review a whole season rather than individual episodes, so there is a chance of spoilers. If you haven’t watched the whole season yet, stop reading now!
To coincide with the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, British television, and the BBC specifically, have been showing many different types of show to commemorate this event. They have differed widely in content and quality but one of the better ones was a mini-series drama which recounted the 37 days that led the world to war. 37 days that took the world from peace to war in quite an amazing way.
It’s a great story in itself. If done as a documentary, it would make a fascinating one that would be vital watching for anyone with a passing interest in the subject but as a drama, it lifts it to a whole new level. It means the characters we are watching are presented much more as real people, not figures from 100 years ago. You see the pain, confusion, anguish and anger that would lead people to make tricky, often drastic but almost always dramatic decisions that would lead to war.
It centers around the Foreign Minister for Britain who begins to react to the death of the Archduke of Austria and then finds himself as mediator between many different countries, including his own, which all see war as inevitable. He is played fantastically by Star Wars Alumni, Ian McDiarmid, who portrays a man with confidence in public and crisis in private.
Alongside him is an equally as strong cast, who all portray key figures from history, from Rainer Sellien as Kaiser Wilhelm II to Mark Lewis Jones and Nicholas Asbury as David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill respectively. These aren’t cartoon characters or caricatures of the people we may know a little about. This is a drama presented as realistic as possible.
The realism brings with it its own rewards, demonstrating how little real drama went into declaring war. It wasn’t shouting matches or huge speeches but small meetings, signed agreements and disputed votes between politicians, around large tables. This presents itself as quite a dry drama to watch unfold but the opposite is true, with it being captivating from beginning to end.
The drama is also told through the lives of the younger men involved, the secretaries or aides to these politicians. These are the men who will ultimately take part in the conflict that is starting around them. They are the voices that narrate some of the more confusing moments or help explain the meaning of key conversations or who key individuals are.
It is also through these men that we get the more tragic elements of the results of the 37 day’s events. It will be them that go to war and the series ends with them making that declaration and recounting what their experiences will be, like a diary entry or retrospective look at the events. It’s here that the same message of “war is awful” is highlighted, slightly cheapening the series successes but not to its overall detriment.
Overall, 37 Days is a triumphant recounting of the events that led to the outbreak of the First World War. It is acted brilliantly, with key characters, from Churchill to Kaiser Wilhelm himself, being represented ably on-screen. It’s overall message is one that has been repeated many times before but the package that message comes in is something new and unique.
Best Episode – There isn’t one. The whole show should be watched as a package for maximum impact.
Best performance – Ian McDiarmid as Edward Grey
Should there be another season? – There is no more story to tell. It is captured perfectly in three gripping episodes.
Season Rating – 3.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)