November is here and everyone’s attention has quickly shifted towards the coming holiday season. But before we start cracking out those Christmas specials and hunting for those bargains, we come to the 11th of November. The day goes by different names depending on where you come from, such as Remembrance Day or Memorial Day, but the gist is the same: remembering those who gave their lives in service of their countries during wartime conflicts. The biggest thing to remember usually comes down to the Second World War and there’s no shortage of media that depicts, honours and documents the many events during that event. But if I were to recommend one piece of media to take in this year, I’d recommend HBO’s Band of Brothers.
What Is It?
Band of Brothers is a ten-part miniseries that debuted on HBO back in 2002 from producers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks a few years after their team-up with Saving Private Ryan. The show documents the many conflicts that the men of Easy Company, part of the US paratroopers, faced from their days in training all the way to the end of the war in 1945. There’s no true lead, as the protagonist changes with every episode, if we were to pick a “main character”, it’d be Damien Lewis’ Richard “Dick” Winters. Lewis plays the character as a quiet but deeply professional and committed recruit in the army. He has quickly risen to a leadership position and helps guide the men of Easy into uncharted territory: to parachute from a plane behind enemy lines in Europe during the Second World War. It’s something that hadn’t really been done before in warfare, not on that level at least, so the training-physical and mental-required a certain individual with a certain mind frame willing to do that task. I found that some of Winter’s best scenes were often when he was socializing and working with his friend and colleague Lewis Nixon (Ron Livingston), who begins to really feel the strain of the war as they crawl towards Germany years later.
The company begins the show training down in the States, under the tutelage of Captain Herbert Sobel (a very punchable David Schwimmer), a high-ranking, power tripping and potentially incompetent leader. Their training eventually transitions to Europe, as they simulate jumping out of planes with nothing but their gear and a parachute. From there, it’s the events of D-Day onwards, as the company goes from Northern France to Bastogne to Germany until the war is declared over in 1945. While not a 100% historical accurate series, the show goes to great lengths to dramatize a lot of historical events and figures while also making a captivating drama. There are episodes that are quiet that focus on the individual, or perhaps act as a breather in between some more frantically chaotic episodes that are sometimes almost entire set within the confines of a battle or two. The cinematography is also on point, showcasing the scope of the war while keeping things close to the company and the events on the ground. You won’t see many crane shots for instance but you will be in the foxholes with the soldiers.
Why Watch It?
Apart from seeing a project from Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, the latter of which even writes an episode, you should be watching the show for the acting and the scope of the campaign. In films that depict lengthy wars, such as the Second World War, much of the scope of the war is removed due to the runtime. We often get a few days and not enough time with the characters. With this ten-part miniseries, we really begin to learn about these men, what makes them tick, where they’re from and why they signed up for the Paratroopers. Each episode opens with interviews from the real soldiers without revealing their names, leaving us wondering who they are in comparison to their on-screen counterparts. It’s also a way to shock the audience when their friends ultimately pass away in the war. Many characters, unfortunately, do not make it out and the show not only does a good job at making us care about them but makes the pain felt in their comrades feel that much more real because we’ve seen them interacting with each other over many episodes going through hell and back. When the real soldiers are recounting certain events, you can see them smiling with the memory of their friends or breaking down into tears at the memory of their passing.
These soldiers weren’t really in the war as a career, they had other professions before signing up, so the show is ultimately about how these seemingly normal people decided to go jump out of airplanes to try and help end World War II. The show also doesn’t pull any punches about the horrors of war. While the show certainly showcases the bravery and honour that many soldiers had, it also showcases quite brutally how war brings out the worst in us as well. Blinded by anger or enjoying war a little too much, the show is candid that the war also took away some humanity and many people had to witness these acts being committed and live with those images as well. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do in the end, make us care about these characters, their mission and motivations, while also making them flawed and even cruel individuals at times. But these are some of the people who fought in Europe to try and stop tyranny, so it’s an interesting evaluation of both character and war. By episode nine of the series, the show takes off the gloves and shows us why the soldiers really were in Europe and it’s an incredibly powerful episode.
The film also has a stacked cast and acts as the launching pad for many big actors working today, such as Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy and Tom Hardy. Other notable actors on the show include Michael Cudlitz, Neal McDonough, Simon Pegg, Donnie Wahlberg and Dexter Fletcher and everyone brings their A-game, giving us flawed yet brave men fighting for what they believe is right. What’s more, we buy into the bond of friendship these men develop in a time of war, which is crucial for the show. They don’t always get along and there’s internal strife, but at the end of the day, they have a bond built on the training and hardships of the war and that’s a testament to the writing and to the cast.
So if you’re looking for something to watch before the holiday cheer to put the holiday cheer into perspective, there are honestly a whole slew of options out there, but I think this is one really does a good job at showing how awful the war was, who these very real people were who fought in it and how it changed them so we can live in the world we have today.