Days that Shook the World

Tuesday, November 4, 2003 by

It’s the opening sentence in the commentary and already we’re immediately historically inaccurate. And as each minute passes, the inaccuracies rain down with astonishing rapidity. Whilst a degree of objectivity is only to be expected, outright falsehoods and blatant misreading of the truth are not. Within the first five minutes of this programme any hope that this could be a welcome addition to the fine canon of BBC history programming is in tatters.

Not so much playing fast and loose with history this is more a case of here’s the beginning, we know the end – let’s make up the bit in the middle with a scant nod to the truth. This is historical programming more in the mode of Mel Gibson’s potently propagated anti-British, anti-Reformation Braveheart/The Patriot agitprop stance than that which we are used to from the BBC.

The dying days of the Romanov dynasty remain amongst the most important of the 20th century. From the fairy story of Anna Andersen to the vastly under-rated 20th Century Fox children’s animation Anastasia (which, incidentally, is a West End hit waiting to happen) the tragedy and mystery of their fate clearly captivates a worldwide audience and our appetite for dramatisations, documentaries and musicals remains undiminished. Therefore, to be subjected to such a brutally bad and seemingly wilfully erroneous treatment such as this is extremely disappointing. In extremely broad terms, the programme may be correct (in a loose sense) but, as ever, the devil is in the detail. And in today’s enlightened age, with an intelligent and sophisticated audience ready and willing to focus in on the negatives, the grey areas and – goddamit – the inaccuracies, the devil looms large in this production.

I won’t bore you with the myriad errors. It is frankly astonishing that so many elementary – dare I say it – schoolboy errors could make it to the final cut. You have to question the production values of all concerned if they allow such palpable nonsense as this to be screened. Not that this element of the show is the sole perpetrator to assault the viewer’s senses. The split-screen visualisations were shoddy, and the inter-cutting of original black and white footage with freshly shot “grainy” black and white was especially precious and failed to convey any emotion or sense of style whatsoever. Stylistically, this was an overwhelming failure with no sense of continuity at all. There was no dramatic tension – despite the storyline – and the pacing seemed pedestrian. The Days strand seems to have strayed far from the original BBC4 premise (the connection of two given days by their similarities) and this particular episode’s treatment (that the fall of the Tsar led inexorably to the fall of the Berlin Wall) is indicative, perhaps, of a form of dumbing-down when transferring shows to mainstream BBC from the “lesser” channels.

This was plain shoddy, without a single redeeming factor. If the neophilliacs are proclaiming history as the new whatever, then all we ask is that accuracy is not the sacrificial lamb to be slaughtered at the altar of expedient viewer figures. This was not so much a day that shook the world but more a production that shook my faith in the BBC.


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