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!
The most striking element of Band of Brothers is how real the story is. The beginning of each episode, which features an interview with actual soldiers who fought in World War 2, reminds the viewers that the events they will see on-screen actually happened. The plan to keep the identities of the real life soldiers a secret until the final episode keeps the audience ill-informed as to the fate of these soldiers, some of which who will survive and many who won’t.
That “true story” element is also made more incredible by the experience of Easy Company of the 101st Airbourne division. These parachute troopers experienced D-Day and Normandy, the missions in Holland which became known as Market Garden and the horrific Battle of the Bulge. They saw the worst of the Second World War and Steven Spielberg delivers it all in a gripping ten-part mini-series.
Spielberg may not be the director of the series but his producing talent is all over the shows style and look. This is the offspring of Saving Private Ryan and shares a lot of the qualities which made that film such a success. The story is presented in it’s gritty, horrific realism. There is no grandstanding or overly emotional scenes for each and every death, a key feature of any conflict while the characters are so well cast and deliver their own unique stories well.
At for the forefront is a pre-Homeland Damien Lewis who plays Richard Winters. You could argue, although I’d disagree, that this becomes Winter’s story but only because he leads Easy Company and sees the worse of the combat as they do. In truth, the series has no “main characters” and involves an ensemble cast as varied as any others series, if not more so.
This means that as well as the larger tale of Easy Company’s experiences of World War 2, we also get the more insular, personal stories which make shows like this so appealing and “human.” Donnie Wahlberg’s Lipton keeps his men together when his superiors can’t, Neal McDonough’s Buck Compton struggles with the horrors of war while Scott Grimes sells the effects of combat on a soldier better than most as he plays Malarkey. The journey this one character goes on epitomises how much can change over ten episodes and by the end you feel his grief and the destructive force of combat.
This isn’t just about the characters though and every episode presents some real-life event faithfully. The training is hard but memorable, particularly for an audience who will see an unexpected side of David Schwimmer, while Normandy is as chaotic as the landings felt in the show’s movie-cousin. Market Garden presents the unexpected nature of war but many people struggle with how horrific the Battle of the Bulge was.
These two episodes which cover Easy’s experiences of the events are as graphic as you can get. Trees splinter, explosions shatter land and men and “main” characters are lost in the events. As a showcase for the horrors of war, the two episodes covering the battle are perfect.
In fact, the whole series is a masterpiece. It manages to tread a fine line between action and sentimentality and that is mainly down to the talking heads featured. The last episode is as poignant as ever, with the real-life Winters finishing off the series perfectly with the line “I am not a hero, but I served in a company of heroes.”
Overall, Band of Brothers manages to extend what made Saving Private Ryan so successful into a masterpiece of television. It perfectly retells the events of World War 2 through the eyes of Easy Company. The characters are memorable, with interesting stories, while events of each episode are recreated faithfully. The addition of talking heads and interviews from real-life soldiers who experienced the events adds a realism which will touch any viewer.
Best Episode – Points: Each episode is vital and interesting but the final episode does become the most poignant as we find out the fate of each soldier.
Best performance – Damien Lewis as Richard Winters
Should there be another season? – No, the series works perfectly as it is. A Television masterpiece.
Season Rating – 5!
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)