TV Review: Band of Brothers – 10/10

‘We salute the rank, not the man…’

As a teacher of both English and film studies, I have the honour of teaching war poems to teenagers. Some of them don’t get it. And that’s fine. Not everybody need like poetry. When you do see the poems have had an impact, however, it’s a truly remarkable thing to witness. That being said, having just finished my third viewing of Band of Brothers, it genuinely seems to me like this is the kind of thing that students should be watching in school. If television has a pinnacle, this show is it…

Following the exploits of ‘Easy’ Company, the 2nd Batallion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, Band of Brothers was one of the most ambitious televisual events of all time when it dropped back in 2001 and it remains the medium’s greatest achievement. We view the war through the eyes of a vast array of characters spanning ten episodes, three years and various countries. We ostensibly see the war from the perspective of Major Dick Winters (Damien Lewis) but in reality, most episodes have a different focal point. Characters come and go. One episode is told from the point of view of a medic. One episode takes us through the process of being a ‘replacement’ (reinforcements who joined the war late). As with real-life warfare, the point is that nobody is more important than anyone else. Private, captain or general, everyone dies the same. It’s a radical storytelling device and one that I don’t think has been emulated anywhere else since. This can be disorientating on first viewing but as with all exceptional art Band of Brothers improves with each viewing. Just look at the cast, aside from the principal characters the amount of talent here is astounding. As well as Lewis, there is Ron Livingstone, Donnie Wahlberg, David Schwimmer, Dexter Fletcher, Michael Fassbender, Tom Hardy, Simon Pegg, James McAvoy and many many others. Indeed, this is a deeply nuanced and layered work, from luminaries Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks no less, and so it takes a while to adjust to the house style and respond to the complexities that the show excels in providing.

Band of Brothers is an incredible technical achievement also. It hasn’t aged a day and it’s startling that no TV show has ever really looked better than this in the 20 years since its release. Beautifully shot. Expertly edited. It’s not often that I’d use the word ‘perfect’ in any kind of review but that’s the level of accomplishment we are dealing with here. This is a perfect television show. The penultimate episode in which the men stumble across a concentration camp is a rare example of when something manages to transcend the medium in which it has been released and become something else entirely. It’s fascinating but also incredibly upsetting, never gratuitous, always respectful but always careful never to shy away from the full horrors of war. It might just be the best single episode of television ever made.

And that parp of hyperbole brings me to my final summation. This is television’s finest achievement. 10 hours that somehow capture the fear, the camaraderie, the unbreakable bond that those men shared. War is a terrible thing, but out of it comes beauty. You just need to know where to look.

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