Sunday, November 2, 2014

War Story: One Of Canadian TV's Best !


I usually don't herald TV shows so early but in the case of the third season of War Story on History the entire six new episodes are worth cancelling all outside plans.
War Story is all Canadian, real life stories told by physically feeble veterans of the D-Day landings.

Their bodies may be frail but their encounters are riveting and told with compassion and tears making this must-see TV.
This season the focus is on battles in Europe and series director and co-executive producer Barry Stevens says sadly it will be the last season.
"We're talking events of 70 years ago. Even if a guy was 18 back then he'd be very old today. And this we forgot as the cameras were on them because they were pitch perfect in memory.
"Events like that stayed with them, never leaving. Then at the end of the interview session we'd have to help them get to their feet. Our oldest vet was 99 so...."
And Stevens is right --how remarkable it is for the viewer to share these defining moments in our nation's history by the actual participants and as they disappear they will be our last contact with  such nation building moments.
As with the first two seasons there is no omniscient narrator. The veterans themselves tell everything with an occasional prompt from an unseen interviewer (Stevens).
Stevens (partnered with David York) also got to the exact locations of the landings and the battles and also discovered contemporary Europeans who witnessed these epochal days.
First Up  Saturday November 8 at 8 on History is the magnificent Dieppe Survived.
All I knew about this defeat was watching the British commander Lord Mountbatten being very cross with CBC's Laurier LaPierre on TV at the time his memoirs came out.
The Dieppe assault on August 18, 1942 was one of the blackest days in Canadian military history. Participants interviewed call it a massacre and it certainly seemed doomed from the start.
In a bizarre way it showed the Russians the  western Allies were not yet ready for a full scale invasion.
But in just eight hours over 900 Canadian soldiers perished. The 2,000 captives were shipped off to Nazi camps where they describe simply surviving as acts of heroism.
Stevens says the mission may have planned all along to capture an Enigma cyphering machine.
 Sunday November 9 at 8 there's D-Day Plus One which looks at what happened to Canadian soldiers as that fateful day progressed.
"We talk to Canadian tank commander Bill McCormick who by all estimates was the Allied soldier who got furthest into France that day," Stevens tells me.
"But he's so danged modest we could never get him to admit this on film!"
Brilliant inter-cutting between French, German and Canadian combatants makes this one enthralling.

A second episode, Whistle For A Tiffy, follows at 8:30 p.m.
It examines the Tactical Air Force through exceptional POV aerial footage --Hawker Typhoon bomber fighters were pivotal in the Allied success.
Monday November 10 at 8 comes Falaise: The Corridor Of Death looking at the battle in August 1944 between Polish and Canadian forces and German forces who were being encircled in Normandy.
I knew almost nothing about this bloody encounter which is told by combatants in great detail.
It is followed at 8:30 with  by Canadians Jim Wilkinson and Lawrence Levy (describing how he changed his dog tags so the Nazis wouldn't know he was Jewish if he got captured) and German participants Erich Bissoir and Edgar Vogel.
Best of the bunch at 8:30 is Where The Hell Is The Leopold and Scheldt as the Germans in the fall of 1944 fought viciously in canals that assisted them in hiding. Canadian endured huge casualties described in painful detail by survivors.
Finally on Tuesday at 8 p.m. there's Liberation an hour long recreation of the fighting in Holland as Canadian forces liberated the starving country.
The key account comes from Betty Laron who was a Dutch Jewish girl around the same age as Anne Frank.
Her family was hidden by Dutch friends but in a house with paper thin walls where conversations could be heard by neighbors.
This one looks at the acts of collaboration by many young Dutch men who were unemployed and the meticulous recreation of events is sensational --this story could be re-told in a feature length film, I feel.
The newsreel shots of Liberation Day are amazing, so much so that Stevens wondered if they had been staged later. Then he concluded such spontaneity could not be replicated.
"It was a sad day when we were wrapping up the interviews," Stevens says. Many of the participants were reached just in time to tell their stories
Expert cross cutting between archival shots, interviews and new footage of the areas covered makes each story spring to life --there isn't a wasted moment.

Stevens says "It's important we don't forget them. They left Canada as kids, returned as heroes, 70 years later the horrors they witnessed are still with them."
I agree --if we ever forget these sacrifices then Canada will be diminished --that's what I took away from this anecdotal history.
It's important young people watch particularly in public and high schools where teaching history has become a slap dash affair.
I watched all the episodes in one marathon preview sitting. I just couldn't stop.
I  felt that pride --hat it must have been like to be young and Canadian 70 years ago.
MY RATING: ****.


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