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Posts Tagged ‘Antarctic’

I’ve been overloading on polar dramas lately by watching both The Last Place on Earth (1985), about Scott and Amundsen’s race for the South Pole, and this more recent Channel 4 mini-series, starring Kenneth Branagh in the title role, which was repeated recently on a UK satellite TV station. In the wake of Amundsen and Scott’s triumphant and tragic journeys to the Pole, Shackleton came up with a different but equally daring type of challenge – a trans-Antarctic expedition. His group ran into deadly danger when their ship became trapped in the ice and was crushed, but the mini-series traces how they overcame all the odds to make their way back to civilisation, without losing a single member of the expedition team.  

From the opening scenes onwards, I realised that Shackleton was a top-quality production  – I hadn’t spotted the name of the director and writer, but it was no surprise to discover that it was Charles Sturridge, director of the classic ITV adaptation of  Brideshead Revisited. The first episode of Shackleton, set in the period just before the First World War, has the same atmosphere of aching nostalgia as Brideshead, similarly showing the last vestiges of a privileged world about to be torn apart. The blend of landscapes, costumes and music here also has the same kind of  seductive power as the country house scenes in the earlier series. For Shackleton, the music is by Adrian Johnston, composer of many of my favourite TV and movie soundtracks, and the cinematographer is Henry Braham, who also filmed yet another period drama I’ve watched recently, The Land Girls (1998), also full of beautiful landscapes.

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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.

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