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Our World War

The recent centenary of WWI was marked by BBC3’s ‘Our World War’, an attempt to engage a new generation with such a massive event. The three-part programme is a compelling mixture of historical and social drama, based on real diaries of British soldiers from 1914-1918. All the archetypal aspects of a war drama are present: a military hierarchy, comradeship vs. conflict, and of course guns – lots of them. Though crucial in the reconstruction of battles such as the Mons, and instrumental to the central plotline which illustrates the advancement in technology over four years, the abundance of guns becomes tedious.

The drama features an unorthodox anachronistic soundtrack, with ‘Teenage Kicks’ the background to the recruitment process; this comes across (maybe mistakenly) as the BBC glorifying the experiences of the ‘Great War’. The filming technique which frequently uses a camera angle from the point of view of the barrel of the gun disassociates the viewer from the psychological act of killing and imitates the atmosphere of a first-person shooter game. We also see through the eyes of William Holbrook, the ‘runner’, which due to his job description creates a disjointed perspective, certainly reflective of the erratic nature of war. However this adds to the videogame effect; it is as though the viewer is thrust into the role of the soldier and the assertion that the series is ‘like call of duty the movie’ (submitted by an insightful Youtube commenter) rings true throughout. This is brand new but grows tiresome, and undermines the grittier aspects of the plot.

Each episode introduces a new set of characters meaning we cannot get attached to any of them. This presumably is intentional, forcing us to empathise with the men and understand the difficulty in their forming relations. The latter episodes delve into more emotional subjects: by 1916 Britain had introduced conscription and linked to this is the storyline which focussed on desertion and the mental struggle a member of a firing squad could face. There are also conventional romantic storylines, the poignancy of which are far outstripped in the scene where three different Britons grapple with killing a leftover young German – for me this was the most evocative moment of the series.

Local viewers will certainly appreciate the light-heartedness and tomfoolery provided by the ‘Manchester Pals Battalion’, serving to remind us how young the soldiers were. The historical accuracy of the broadcast is confirmed at the end of each programme, with sombering statistics and a brief commentary from the veterans. Despite its classic grey-green military hue saturation and my personal gripe of the excess of machinery ‘Our World War’ is not as novel as the BBC wishes, though for reaching a 16-34 demographic it is the best contender in its field.