I’ve just finished watching this epic seven-part 1980s ITV mini-series about Scott and Amundsen’s race for the South Pole in 1911-12, starring Martin Shaw and Norwegian actor Sverre Anker Ousdal. It makes harrowing viewing at times, especially during the almost unbearable, drawn-out coverage of Scott and his men in the last desperate days of their lives. Directed by Ferdinand Fairfax, who also made Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years (1981), this comes from a period when TV companies seemed to keep making very expensive and long historical drama series – which sadly doesn’t often happen now!
I should say at the outset that I’m not any kind of expert on Scott or Amundsen and don’t know how accurate this account is. I believe it caused some controversy at the time, and it definitely portrays Scott as arrogant and largely responsible for equipping his expedition badly, taking ponies rather than enough dogs and skis – while Amundsen is seen as more competent and a better explorer, though he seems arrogant too at times. (I’d imagine some measure of arrogance is needed to mount an expedition like this in the first place.) Anyway, I’m hoping to read more about them both and find out more background. (I would imagine there might be new books and documentaries in 2011/12 to mark the centenary.) Just looking at this as a drama, I find it enthralling and moving to watch, even though, or indeed because, it portrays these famous explorer-heroes as flawed human beings. It does show how terrible the weather was during that Antarctic winter, and how the conditions contributed to the tragedy.