“How does an army of several million men defeat another army of several million men?”
There are criminally few media’s which have tapped into the immense potential of WW1, the Great War, the First World War. Most people have heard and will repeat verbatim the fallacy that the war just isn’t good material for drama owing to its grinding horrors, personal tragedies, and moral ambiguities (things which surely would guarantee good drama). This idea has persisted to the point that a full century later the best meditation on this pivotal moment in mans history is the slightly silly (but genius) sitcom Black Adder. It is good news then that the BBC is commemorating the 100 year anniversary of the wars outbreak with a slew of documentaries and dramatic recreations.
37 Days doesn’t deal with the war itself but the diplomatic events leading up to things kicking off big style. With an ensemble cast of reliable golden oldies sporting some epic oiled mustaches, it takes us through the type writer infested corridors of early 20th century power, from the British foreign office to the the Imperial Palace of the Kaiser. None other than Emperor Palpatine takes the lead as British foreign minister Edward Grey tasked with keeping the peace during a regional Eastern European war until things unravel around him into “a bit of a to do.”
Yes, this is the stuffy factual nonsense over the slick and sexy flights of fantasy – to those troglodytes not interested in “them days” it will hold little of value. The era is recreated perfectly by the BBC’s well established period drama department and there is at least a token thrumming soundtrack to try and keep the easily bored on the edge of their seats.
Pointing out that there are some questionable historical details is tiresome considering few historical drama’s are beyond this criticism and it will be the imdb reviewers default complaint. 37 Days is at least devoted to the pivotal events rather than contriving relationships (barring a lousy but brief flirtation sub plot) but make no mistake this is a BBC documentary which plays it relatively safe with its sources. Despite being a hefty 3 hours long little time is given to the wider geo-political tensions building up to the Balkan war, or major powers but such things would probably have weighed down an already substantial history lesson.
Overall, a well made and tense reconstruction of events often ignored even by those interested in the war.