The War that Changed Us not rose-tinted

There is lots of Anzac nostalgia television in the offing, with Anzac Girls notably underway already, leaving a somewhat frothy impression, though it is apparently based on diaries at the time. The nurses seem awfully young and fetching, the soldiers very boyish.

The War that Changed Us, episode 1 just seen, is a more sombre production altogether, documentary more than drama, built around the diaries and letters of a senior officer (Harold ‘Pompey’ Elliott), an enlisted man (Archie Barwick), a nurse (‘Kit’ McNaughton) and an anti-war activist (Vida Goldstein). Eva Hughes of the pro-war Australian Women’s National League and Tom Barker (anti-war Industrial Workers of the World) also get a run in the first episode.

Historians Clare Wright (co-writer with Don Featherstone), Bruce Scates, Peter Stanley, Bill Gammage, Janet Butler, Ross McMullin and others provide tightly scripted and insightful commentary, clearly informed by deep knowledge of the subject matter. The splicing together of original film, tinted original film, and reconstruction is subtle without attempting to be misleading; the whole look of the episode is suitably sepia without being self-conscious. The soundtrack is not intrusive.

The anxiety of the families is depicted as well as the patriotic fervour (and longing for adventure) of the men and women enlisting. The battlefield scenes are as realistic as they could be and the original battle aftermath footage is horrific. The look of the show is pretty much anachronism free. The whole production – to judge by one episode, admittedly – reeks of balance.

One wondered a little whether poor ‘Pompey’ Elliott might have paid his dues by appearing in Chris Masters’s series The Years that Made Us last year and that perhaps another senior officer might have been featured – or maybe the even more tragic, if not quite so senior, Hugo Throssell VC, but that is a minor quibble.

All in all, the support given to this series by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and other official sponsors looks like being well worth it. It’s a shame that so much more official largesse is being squandered on hollow ‘commemoration’.

David Stephens

19 August 2014

Our review of episode 2. Our review of episode 3. Our review of episode 4.

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