Revisiting Band of Brothers

Rob Keeling

It’s a rare thing indeed to find a TV show that even after multiple repeat viewings still manages to resonate as strongly as it did upon first watch, but HBO’s epic miniseries Band of Brothers is one such special show. The ten part drama is a powerful, moving and visually stunning series that remains the benchmark for any TV show depicting war on screen.

For the uninitiated, Band of Brothers charts the experiences of Easy Company, part of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, during World War 2. Though dramatic licence is understandably taken in certain areas, the series is based on historian Stephen Ambrose’s meticulously researched and acclaimed book of the same name. Further details were also taken from the recollections of the soldiers themselves, including the published memoirs of Easy Company solder, David Webster. In other words, every attempt was made to make the story as close to reality as physically possible.

With both Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks serving as executive producers, the show was given huge financial backing and was at the time the most expensive miniseries of all time at $125million, a record which stood right up until the release of its follow-up series, The Pacific.

The show condenses a huge amount into its ten episode arc, taking us on a journey with the same band of men from their formative years in jump training, through to their D-Day Landings and experiences in the Battle of the Bulge. The sheer scale of the story being told on the show is handled superbly and by focusing on Easy Company alone, it allows us to experience the wider conflict and its changing dynamics through the experiences of this one group of men. Another benefit of this format is that we develop a strong connection with the characters and are fully invested in what happens to them as the war unfolds.  In episodes such as The Breaking Point, where characters we have followed since day 1 begin to fall, it packs a particularly hard punch.

The show’s huge budget was put to magnificent use with every episode looking like a Hollywood movie in its own right, from small flourishes like weaponry and costume design, right up to the breathtaking location recreations. The sets for battle locales such as Carentan and Nuenen are perfect, immersing us briefly into the chaos that the real Easy Company faced. Likewise, the snow covered forests of Bastogne created an unforgettable eerie hellscape during the terror of the Battle of the Bulge.

The show isn’t just an impressive recreation of World War 2 combat however, it is also powerful and immersive character drama. It brings us a range of characters with distinct personalities and backgrounds and thrusts them into a series of life and death situations. Some episodes, such as Bastogne and The Breaking Point, are particularly harrowing to watch with the brutality of conflict shown in unflinching detail. It’s during these episodes that the impact these events must have had on the real life Easy men is really brought into focus.

The show handled the difficult and haunting subject matter superbly; portraying the heroism of civilian soldiers’ well whilst also never being too chest-pounding or over the top. It also wasn’t afraid to show that some soldiers did not cover themselves in glory during the conflict, particularly as the war came to an end and discipline began to buckle. Equally, it was also even handed in its portrayal of German soldiers, who were not shown as typical action movie baddies, and sought to demonstrate that some too were just civilian soldiers trying to make it through the war.

The show’s cast is itself something of a marvel, not only down to the stunning performances by the likes of Damien Lewis as Winters, Ron Livingston as Nixon, Scott Grimes as Malarkey and Frank John Hughes as Guarnere, but also the number of actors who had minuscule parts but then went on to bigger and better things. We can briefly glimpse the likes of Tom Hardy, Michael Fassbender,  James McAvoy and Andrew Scott in supporting roles. Plus of course there’s a memorable turn from David Schwimmer as the much loathed Captain Sobel.

Perhaps the main thing that makes the show so unique however is it use of real-life Easy veterans as talking heads at the outset of every episode. These recollections from the actual Easy men adds extra context to what follows and also acts as a timely reminder to the viewer that these events happened to real people. Sadly since the show aired in 2001, many of these real-life members of Easy Company have passed on, but the show stands as a living testament to their experiences.

If you have never got round to watching Band of Brothers, then I cannot encourage you enough to go and do so right away. Equally, if you’ve watched it before but have been putting off a re-watch, dig out the old boxset, block out a hefty stretch of TV time and marvel once again at the stunning series in all its glory. CURRAHEE!!!!!!!!

(all image credits : HBO)

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