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.
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
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
etc.) did, although it did take home the Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries.
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