wed 08/12/2021

The Passing Bells, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

The Passing Bells, BBC One

The Passing Bells, BBC One

The Great War reduced to banal platitudes

War is hell: Jack Lowden as Michael (left) and Patrick Gibson as Thomas

We seem to have spent most of 2014 examining the social, political, historical, geographical and military ramifications of the First World War. You would have thought, therefore, that the upcoming Remembrance Sunday commemorations could have been allowed to stand alone, uncluttered by further efforts to explain or dramatise the events of 1914.

But still the BBC felt the urge to give us this five-part drama by veteran EastEnders/Life on Mars writer Tony Jordan, about two young men – teenagers in fact – who rush to join the military at the outbreak of hostilities but soon discover that war is not romantic or glorious but violent, brutal and horrifying. Scheduled in half-hour portions at 7pm all this week, it seems uncertain of its purpose. Is it a children's programme running late? Is it supposed to be educational? Is it a kind of military soap?

The theme music is in the same pastoral-orchestral mode as the Downton Abbey soundtrack, and the opening scenes could have been shot in the fields and lanes surrounding the Crawleys' stately pile. We met Michael and Katie, frolicking flirtatiously in the meadow, before their fun was cut short by Katie being called away by her parents as they ambled past bucolically with their horse-drawn cart. When Michael got home, his father was reading the newspaper solemnly. "Austria-Hungary have accused the Serbs of murder," he said gravely. "They issued an ultimatum last night at six o'clock with the full backing of Berlin." He might have added that the lamps will start going out all over Europe (Jack Lowden as Michael and Sabrina Bartlett as Katie, pictured above).

Then we met Thomas (Tommy, geddit?), a delivery boy rushing around his home town by bicycle. His dad had been reading the newspaper too. "The thing is Germany might invade Belgium and they're our friends. You have to stick up for your friends." But, he added, "if there's a war it'll be over in a month." That's dramatic irony for you.

It was the end of the innocence

From the towns and the shires they flocked to join up, Michael and Thomas included. They weren't afraid, and were proud to fight for their country. But it wasn't the same country, because only then did we learn that Thomas is British and Michael is German! All that was missing was a big sign saying "war is hell for everybody, whether you're a naive young lad from the English provinces or a farmer's boy from the Fatherland. "

After being shouted at by their respective sergeant-majors, our boys, and theirs, were marched off to the front. In the foreground, poppies fluttered ominously in the breeze. Soon the shooting had started in earnest, and a horrified Thomas saw his first dead body. It was the end of the innocence.

There's a message here, along the lines of "terrible mistakes were made and must never be allowed to happen again." Unfortunately it will take more than trite, cliched TV drama to bring that about.

After being shouted at by their respective sergeant-majors, our boys, and theirs, were marched off to the front

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Yep; no cliche left unturned in this first episode. Loved the way all the eager British volunteers were immediately equipped with full uniform and kit and sent to the front- when exactly? Certainly not in 1914, so was there supposed to be a time lapse of nearly a year? We weren't told.

Cynics. Be cynical I found the simplicity of this series refreshing. Without gore, patriotism or glory and very moving. It showed the human sadness of war in a way which could touch every one of us. Wherever we were born, whatever our belief. We are all someone's son, or daughter. Many of us are parents, brothers or sisters. A common human bond. The series was made for children. Perhaps we should learn from that, and look at the horror of war through the eyes of a child.

I found the TV series of the Passing Bells really moving,I thought that it was very good indeed.Yes there were some cleches at start but I can forgive that.It showed the human side really well,episode three was so chilling at end.We did not need the blood and guts,the last shots of the soldiers stood surrounded by dead bodies made you imagine it all. I was so hoping that the two central characters would make it.They kill one another as peace is declared and come together as death approaches.The futility of war! Totally brilliant.It got me.I had a good sob in the kitchen whilst standing over the kettle!

Loved the music from the series .So sad

Loved the series.How can I download the theme music for the BBC series of passing bells?

I loved the series and would like to download the wonderful music. Can you let us know when it will be available? Thank you Maxine

I’ve looked everywhere to find out the opening music for the drama but no one seems to know? It’s composed by John Lunn I know that much, but only a few of the other bits of music throughout the drama is named not this bit for some reason which is strange!

You would think the producers of this so-called drama would have enough sense to at least have the pretend German actors have a German accent in their speech!

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