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War and Remembrance

By Doug Thomas

The ambitious TV event War and Remembrance was the final opus in the golden age of the maxi-miniseries. This six-disc set offers the first half (seven episodes) of ABC's mammoth 30-hour production of Herman Wouk's bestseller - itself a sequel to the landmark Winds of War - mixing fictional and real characters around the events of World War II.

It starts a week after the attack on Pearl Harbor and abruptly stops in July 1943 with the fall of Mussolini. Only half of the first series' lead actors return, including Robert Mitchum as the patriarch Captain "Pug" Henry. Although Mitchum is too old and less dashing than he should be, his presence is exactly what the series needs as it wavers between pop entertainment and a graphic look at the atrocities of war. The series' multiple storylines branch from the Henry family tree, from his sons' naval battles to his daughter-in-law's (Jane Seymour) harrowing flight through Europe with her famous father (John Gielgud), witnessing firsthand the collapse of European Jewish life in the grip of Nazi power.

Director Dan Curtis said that after The Winds of War, the opportunity to show the Jews' plight led him to take on another daunting production. He takes the viewer into Auschwitz with unflinching realism (producer and former internee Branko Lustig returned to the subject a decade later with Schindler's List) and is just as deft with a few massive battle sequences combining models with colorized footage. Sometimes the soap opera of the characters' affairs seems pretty sappy, especially with some uneven acting.

The second half of this massive miniseries covers events from the last two years of World War II with members of our fictitious family--the Henrys--scattered throughout the world. Pariah "Pug" Henry visits Russia and England as an advisor--and proposes to his much-younger lover, Pamela (Victoria Tennant)--before retuning to the Pacific theater to join his son Byron (Hart Bochner), a submariner, in battling the Japanese. Meanwhile, Byron's wife, Natalie (Jane Seymour), and her uncle (John Gielgud) continue their harrowing plight, starting in the "Paradise Ghetto" and leading to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

This half - 11.5 hours - aired on ABC in May 1989, six months after the first half. Unfortunately there is no kinetic battle sequence like the first half's Midway clash to absorb the viewer. Director Dan Curtis relies more on newsreel footage (and the sometimes heavy-handedness of narrator William Woodson) to cover large events. To compensate, the filmmakers give inordinate screen time to the conspiracy to kill Hitler (Steven Berkoff) by his inner circle. Like in Herman Wouk's novel, Hitler's decision to eliminate the Jews is the backbone of the entire series and the film's steely reenactments of these events--an amazing achievement for network television--is quite harrowing. Authenticity (filming at Auschwitz) plus ace performances (Seymour has been rarely better, Gielgud is outstanding) combine for a powerful statement, although the whole production is sometimes weighed down by the soap-opera elements of the Henrys' lives.

The original Winds of War miniseries had a higher caliber cast, which is missed here. However, a few actors shine in their atypical performances, including Barry Bostwick (who tied with Gielgud for the Golden Globe) as a flamboyant submariner and David Dukes as a desk side attaché who reaches new depths in the war. Although admired and very watchable, the series did not impact the industry as much as its predecessor or sweep the award circuit as other miniseries (Roots, Holocaust, etc.) did, although it did take home the Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries.

War and Remembrance on DVD!
War and Remembrance is now available on DVD! Get it at Amazon.com!
Season One, Season Two

 

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TV TIDBITS

Aired: 1988/1989

Cast: Robert Mitchum, Jane Seymour, Hart Bochner, Victoria Tennant, Polly Bergen, David Dukes

Network: ABC

Genre: Miniseries

Theme song

Image courtesy of ABC


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