TV Highlights

Apocalypse World War 1

National Geographic - 9pm

Who's in it?

Happy waving generals, stern-faced politicians and the stoic soldiers of the hellish trenches all shared screen time in a documentary that made the subject of the Great War as fresh as a CNN report.

In a nutshell

It's amazing what a dash of colour can do. We think of World War One in black and white terms: monochrome mayhem, fuzzy scratchy footage of bleary battlefields, big men with moustaches planning things in impossibly opulent rooms. It's all very... stately and historic, and difficult to really identify with, much as we'd like to. But this documentary was different, and it was all thanks to colour. And editing. But mainly colour.

A wealth of footage from 1914, convincingly coloured, gave the story a new and startling immediacy. We saw soldiers in close up, young men no different to the ones now serving in the Middle East, their personalities shining through the screen. Their injuries as visible and horrific as anything we've seen in news reports on Afghanistan. All of this was expertly spliced together with shots of key players like President Woodrow Wilson, in order to explain a war that was as complex as it was catastrophic. Lacking the clear, cartoon villains of WW2, it's a conflict that – more than any other – deserves a clear and gripping treatment, which is what this programme provides.

What's the verdict?

Genuinely moving and disturbing in ways that most World War One documentaries haven't been, this is a must-watch for anyone interested in the conflict that re-shaped the world and spawned the modern age.

Star rating: 5/5

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07-07-2011