tue 20/08/2019

The Day We Walked on the Moon, ITV review - it was 50 years ago to the day | reviews, news & interviews

The Day We Walked on the Moon, ITV review - it was 50 years ago to the day

The Day We Walked on the Moon, ITV review - it was 50 years ago to the day

You've heard it all before, but this was an entertaining ride

Giant steps are what you take... Apollo 11's astronauts reach the lunar surface

It was on 16 July 1969 that Apollo 11 lifted off from Florida en route for the Moon, and exactly 50 years later, as we nervously anticipate the dawn of commercial flights into space, the event resonates louder than ever. Here, Professor Brian Cox called it “the greatest achievement in the history of civilisation.” According to veteran broadcaster Sir Trevor McDonald, it was “the most magnificent thing that ever happened.”

The TV networks have been saturating us in moon-shot memorabilia, and in the cinema we’ve had Todd Douglas Miller’s imposing feature-length documentary Apollo 11, but this ITV offering succeeded by doing the simple things well. Director John Moulson kept the action brisk and the interviews punchy, with Mark Strong tackling the voice-over with urgency. The piece was whisked along by flavourful Sixties pop songs. “Telstar” evoked the technologically primitive early Sixties, while Apollo 11’s Saturn 5 rocket blasted off to the accompaniment of The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High”. A droll scene of suburban British viewers settling down in front of the telly triggered a burst of the Bonzos’ “I’m the Urban Spaceman” (Apollo 11 lifts off, pictured below).

Moulson had tracked down some interviewees who had something fresh to offer, not least Neil Armstrong’s son Mark (who looks a bit like Matt “The Martian” Damon), and Buzz Aldrin’s boy Andrew. There were some smart observations from Michael Collins, who orbited the Moon on his own while the other two went sightseeing in the Lunar Module. “Clearly I did not have the best of the three seats,” he deadpanned, “but I was thrilled to be part of the Apollo 11 crew.” Queen’s guitarist Brian May, appearing here as his alter ego Dr Brian May, astrophysicist, observed that Collins must have been “the most alone human being ever”. Au contraire, said Collins. “I considered myself to be almost like a king, it was my domain. I was their ticket home.”

We perhaps forget what a dark and difficult time this was for America, tormented by Vietnam, race riots and assassinations. Much was riding on the lunar programme to rekindle the nation’s self-belief. Dwight Chapin, President Nixon’s assistant, showed the camera the text of the speech which had been written for Nixon in case the Apollo 11 astronauts didn’t come back, though lord knows what would have happened if he’d had to deliver it.

What most struck the astronauts when they did make it back to earth was the way, wherever they travelled, that people said “hey, we did it,” as if they’d carried out their mission for the whole world and not just the USA. They’d left a plaque on the Moon saying “we came in peace for all mankind”, and mankind shared the sentiment.

We saw the text of the speech which had been written for Nixon in case the Apollo 11 astronauts didn’t come back

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Average: 3 (1 vote)

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