Filming the First World War

Jonathan Lewis and Hew Strachan point out the daunting challenges and exciting opportunities involved in producing a new major TV series.

The First World War, as a subject for television, has acquired a lot of baggage over the past forty years. Our film researcher, Alison McAllan, was told by some colleagues on starting out that her task would be easy, because there wasn’t a lot of footage to chose from and, of what there is, virtually none is genuine. These myths have their counterparts in the military history: Germany single-handedly started it; the British came in because of ‘plucky little Belgium’; the Germans followed the Schlieffen plan; the men were lions led by donkeys; and it was all a tragic waste. It is as if the war is so difficult to master that people have clung to these old hand-holds. But there are other ways up the mountain.

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