Unmissable: Why I’m always pleased to reunite with my Band of Brothers
- Credit: Archant
Muck, Shifty, Skip, Skinny, Babe, Bull Wild Bill, Popeye – it’s been a pleasure reacquainting myself with you and the rest of Easy Company.
Watching HBO epic miniseries Band of Brothers for the first time in years – and the first time in HD – prompts two main observations.
First, that despite being 15 years old, the episodes look as crisp, cinematic and authentic as anything made in 2015, be it for the big screen or home viewing. In fact, they look far better than when originally screened on BBC2 back in September 2001, which in my case was watched on a rather tiny TV in my university bedroom.
Somehow, largely due to minimal (but at times startlingly effective) use of CGI to illustrate the grander scale of World War Two, the show has aged far better than the average turn-of-the-millennium shows.
Maybe it’s down to the quality of the writing, the no-expense-spared approach to the costumes, props, tanks, planes and sets, or possibly the measures and research undertaken to ensure the drama is as real as possible.
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But a lot of it is down to the cast, which is the second aspect of Band of Brothers that really strikes you as you follow the men of Easy Company – part of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division – from the training camps of the USA to the liberation of concentration camps and the capture of the Eagle’s Nest in Germany.
Looking at the vast ensemble cast, with many actors appearing in just one or two scenes, let alone more than a single episode, it doesn’t immediately help with getting to know the men.
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But at the core is an impressive crop of British and American actors including Damian Lewis and Ron Livingston as Lieutenant Richard Winters and Lieutenant Lewis Nixon. The odd couple of the tee-totaller and the functioning drunk are the moral compass of the show. Watching Lewis’s Winters grow as an authority figure and leader of men, via promotion from lieutenant to major, is an early indication of his talents more than a decade before Homeland and Wolf Hall.
For some, the series was a career high – the likes of Matthew Settle as clinical killer Captain Ronald Speirs and Rick Gomez as wisecracking Technician Fourth Grade George Luz have arguably never matched their fine performances – while for many it was simply a starting point.
Imagine a film made today with Michael Fassbender, Tom Hardy, Simon Pegg, Stephen Graham, James McAvoy, Marc Warren, David Schwimmer and – somewhat surprisingly – Jimmy Fallon (now one of the biggest talk show hosts in the States) and you’d have little trouble selling it to a studio.
Private Janovec in Band of Brothers is actually Hardy’s first ever screen credit, even if it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role.
And Fassbender’s Technical Sergeant Burton “Pat” Christenson somewhat blends into the background – something of an impossibility these days for one of Hollywood’s favourite leading men.
McAvoy had little more than just a supporting part in The Bill to his name before his part as the tragic replacement Private James Miller, one of many killed during the unsuccessful Operation Market Garden. Friends star Schwimmer’s Captain Sobel appears in only two episodes but his character’s dedicated yet mean approach to their training leaves a lasting mark on the men, who went on to form one of the most potent and called-upon units in the United States Army during the war.
And to describe these as “parts” or “characters” is something of a misnomer.
These are all real people and the events depicted really did happen. Many of the men we see making their way across Europe from battle to battle feature in the short films that precede each episode – incredibly moving interviews with men then aged in their 80s, mostly, recalling vividly the camaraderie and horror of their wartime experiences, which shaped the rest of their long lives.
If you’ve never watched Band of Brothers, or not since it was shown the first time around, then it thoroughly warrants a second, third or fourth viewing.
What do you think? Email me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @Elliot_Furniss