Passing Bells - BBC's Great War Drama

BuggerAll

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
Watched the first episode last night (3 Nov 2014).

It was an interesting premise. Follow a British and a German lad from recruitment to the trenches.

It had moments but I wasn't completely convinced.
 
My issue at the moment, with this program, and the BBC 3 'Our World War' is they seem only interested in rehashing the old 'shot at dawn' and 'Lions led by Donkeys' myths.

This centenary could have been an excellent opportunity to redress some wrongs on how the war is remembered, but it seems to have been wasted.


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My issue at the moment, with this program, and the BBC 3 'Our World War' is they seem only interested in rehashing the old 'shot at dawn' and 'Lions led by Donkeys' myths.

This centenary could have been an excellent opportunity to redress some wrongs on how the war is remembered, but it seems to have been wasted.


Posted from the ARRSE Mobile app (iOS or Android)
Yeah but why let the truth get in the way of a good left wing myth.
 
My issue at the moment, with this program, and the BBC 3 'Our World War' is they seem only interested in rehashing the old 'shot at dawn' and 'Lions led by Donkeys' myths.

This centenary could have been an excellent opportunity to redress some wrongs on how the war is remembered, but it seems to have been wasted.

While I am quite happy to accept that there are complexities involved, I cannot wholly accept the revisionist view that WW1 was, after all, well played.

When you consider that between the opening period and the final couple of months, the Western Front lines moved hardly at all for the better part of four years. The front in the Balkans was much the same. The Dardanelles front was an ill-considered and very costly disaster. The Eastern Front collapsed due to the internal situation in Russia.

The predominant offensive tactics remained the same throughout - heavy artillery barrage, infantry advance towards heavily defended enemy lines 'protected' by a creeping barrage of variable effectiveness, all resulting in predictable heavy losses with little strategic or tactical effect. The later appearance of the early slow, cumbersome and unreliable tanks was largely an irrelevance.

Offensives were interspersed with long periods of inactivity broken by resupply, trench repairs, small patrols and trench raids. Much of the Western Front was 'quiet' for a great deal of the time and saw little useful military activity.

It was not a war that was won by superior military tacticians. It was largely a static war of attrition, which eventually was lost by the Central Powers.

Only the Royal Navy can come away with any sort of credit. It was their success in blockading the German Imperial Navy that did much to create the conditions that ensured that it was the Central Powers that eventually lost the war of attrition.

I've heard the revisionist arguments and read the revisionist books and still come away unconvinced by their views.
 
J

JWBenett

Guest
It was on iPlayer last night. Predictable and formulaic. One bloke British and one German, we're expected to believe.There was no real effort to distinguish the two apart from uniforms and kit. It seemed lazy and soapy, it looked cheap and not very deep. Sorry.
 
It's only marginally preferably to "Our Girl" and that is not a compliment!
 
While I am quite happy to accept that there are complexities involved, I cannot wholly accept the revisionist view that WW1 was, after all, well played.

When you consider that between the opening period and the final couple of months, the Western Front lines moved hardly at all for the better part of four years. The front in the Balkans was much the same. The Dardanelles front was an ill-considered and very costly disaster. The Eastern Front collapsed due to the internal situation in Russia.

The predominant offensive tactics remained the same throughout - heavy artillery barrage, infantry advance towards heavily defended enemy lines 'protected' by a creeping barrage of variable effectiveness, all resulting in predictable heavy losses with little strategic or tactical effect. The later appearance of the early slow, cumbersome and unreliable tanks was largely an irrelevance.

Really? So by mid 1918 Britain was not fielding one of the most effective combined armed forces the world had seen. This is the same army that 4 years previously had been little more than a colonial police force. I would argue that the British army and high command were the most effective of all the major powers in adapting to this new kind of warfare.

Offensives were interspersed with long periods of inactivity broken by resupply, trench repairs, small patrols and trench raids. Much of the Western Front was 'quiet' for a great deal of the time and saw little useful military activity.

Well of course it was. Unless you are suggesting they should have been on an offensive every day?

It was not a war that was won by superior military tacticians. It was largely a static war of attrition, which eventually was lost by the Central Powers.

Only the Royal Navy can come away with any sort of credit. It was their success in blockading the German Imperial Navy that did much to create the conditions that ensured that it was the Central Powers that eventually lost the war of attrition.

Disagree. I believe the army can hold their heads high. Most campaigns the senior officers had fought in contained up to a division. Now they were successfully supplying and maintaining millions of men. No mean feat, and certainly a steep learning curve in 4 years.

I've heard the revisionist arguments and read the revisionist books and still come away unconvinced by their views.

Depends what you mean by revisionist. As the primary sources coming out in the early 20s were generally quite positive. The 'Lions led by Donkeys' school of thought introduced in the 60s are considered revisionist.

My bold.
 
Here's my review of this abortion of a miniseries that I just put on the BotR facebook page:

Film review. "The Passing Bells". A WW1 miniseries, currently being heavily marketed on DVD (link at the end), looking at the parallel experiences between a British and a German protagonist whose paths cross at the end.

Where to start, where to start. This is a Young Indiana Jones Chronicles level representation of the first world war. Well, maybe not *quite* that bad, but getting close.

It starts out OK-ish, and they use a device that you can't tell that one of the lead charachters is German and the other British until they're both in uniform. I see what they were going for there, but it was a bit "WTF" when it resolved itself.

We've got 1914 volunteers going into the line waaaaay faster than in reality (I'm sure there's individual exceptions, but the newly-raised British armies didn't go into the line until mid-1915).

And then as it goes along, we get trench warfare where the trenches are far too well-maintained and undamaged, are generally silent most of the time, a gas attack that is ridiculous, and so on.

Then from the 1916 episode onwards it starts to get laughable. Really laughable. We've got British dugouts that are well-lit, entirely wood-panelled, clean, with large bunkbeds with good mattrasses. The soldiers are in there in shirt sleeves, sleeping in beds! And then, the representation of the first day of the Somme. Men marched into the neat wood-panelled front line in silence, as if the arty stopped minutes or hours before the attack. Then, to the German lines. We're told they've been shelled senseless for 7 days, and yet the trenches are all neatly wood-panelled, overhead random barbed wire is undisturbed, and they are generally looking as if they'd been constructed in a quiet sector the day before. Brits leave their trenches, there's no return fire for ages, and then we get the British protagonist as the sole survivor and no wounded. Both him and the German protagonist can walk around the devastation unmolested.

When we get to the end, the German protagonist, who had been taken prisoner, escapes from the British protagonist, who doesn't shoot him. Fine. But this line: "Our lines should be on the other side of this wood". Erm, you what? Err, no, that's not how WW1 front lines worked. If the lines had been on the other side of the (British-held) wood, the wood would have been shelled to sh1t, and there'd be the teensy little issue of 3 lines of British trenches before the Germand front line that our German protagonist would have to cross before he can get back to safety.

And I'm not even going to complain about the little things (Turkish Mausers, later Australian SMLE's, the odd Franken No.4, something funny with the British bayonets, and incorrect parapet construction).

Don't bother with it. Crap. Unless you like soppy love stories.
 
I assume the offending show is a drama rather than an attempted documentary about WW1.
 
I assume the offending show is a drama rather than an attempted documentary about WW1.

TBH I'm not quite sure what it's trying to be. A soppy parallel love story? It's kinda weak on that front. Drama? There's not so much tension as to pull that off. So weak there, too.

Basically it's just weak sauce all around.
 
We've got 1914 volunteers going into the line waaaaay faster than in reality (I'm sure there's individual exceptions, but the newly-raised British armies didn't go into the line until mid-1915).
You're being over generous, most of the New Army [the Kitchener volunteers] didn't get to the front until June 1 1916. The expansion in 1915 was a mixture of recalled from empire regulars and the TA. By comparison the German character would have been conscripted not volunteered. I can't find figures to prove it but based on what we did in the UK, I'd assume about 6 months for his training before he went into the line.
Edit to add: I found this on line, it's a bit vague but suggest Germans got very little time in training. Training to be a soldier
 
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You're being over generous, most of the New Army [the Kitchener volunteers] didn't get to the front until June 1 1916. The expansion in 1915 was a mixture of recalled from empire regulars and the TA. By comparison the German character would have been conscripted not volunteered. I can't find figures to prove it but based on what we did in the UK, I'd assume about 6 months for his training before he went into the line.
IIRC the first units raised at the outbreak of war went into the line sometime around April 1915. But I can't find back the reference.
 
IIRC the first units raised at the outbreak of war went into the line sometime around April 1915. But I can't find back the reference.
The first yes, but the majority could not be equipped that fast. There were TA units in 1915 still not properly equipped with small arms never mind the new boys.
 

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