Why BAND OF BROTHERS is still the BEST war series

There is no better television production about the tragedy of World War II.

Jakub Piwoński

9 July 2023

You don’t have to watch a horror movie to feel fear. Thanks to Band of Brothers I was reminded of the real horror that befell the world. There is no better television production about the tragedy of World War II. I doubt that this argument can be argued.

I first became acquainted with Band of Brothers about a year after its premiere, in 2002. These were, of course, times without streaming. When some trinket appeared, then you had to comply and politely wait every Friday, following the next episodes at a certain time of day. It taught patience, humility and, in a way, respect for the work. In the intervening week, there was space to reflect on how much the title company was screwed by participating in this war drama. Sometimes it seemed to me that the comfort of a comfortable armchair, a warm home and the distance I could keep from the stories told was something unfair. Oh, we don’t appreciate what blood was shed for. And they certainly don’t appreciate that generation Y, which I belong to – but let’s leave it at that.

During the repeat screening, I tried to guarantee myself a similar viewing comfort. One episode every few days. Calmly, unhurriedly, as if contemplating this story. But the conclusions I have reached are not reassuring. For me, discovering the next stages of this story was like delving into a journey into Conrad’s heart of darkness. Again I realized what a dark nature man hides, although he can effectively suppress it. It’s incredible that some mentally ill guy with a mustache and a characteristic comb from the safe level of the “eagle’s nest” (where the heroes of Brother Company walk in the series finale) managed to make plans to conquer the world, guided by a deeply hidden inferiority complex. This illusion, motivated by strong prejudices and fears, turned out to be so damn inspiring to act that Hitler’s comrades did not need to be persuaded twice to give people hell on earth. What was significant was the fact that they all received absolution under the influence of acting for the higher purpose, which was to restore Germany from a kneeling position to a standing position.

Someone had to oppose it. Someone had to stop this march of evil. Before that happened, several lavish years of war had passed. However, 1944 is the year of the memorable landing in Normandy, the largest amphibious operation in the history of warfare. Band of Brothers tells the story of the famous Company E, the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment belonging to the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army. In short, they were brave bastards. As viewers, we follow the fate of several characters, starting from the training preceding the famous landing in Normandy, to the end of the war in Europe. While the title of the series is taken from Shakespeare, the HBO series has a different connection to literature. The plot of this 10-episode miniseries is based on Stephen Ambrose’s book of the same name. However, the scripts of the episodes were written primarily in accordance with the accounts of veterans and their feelings. The creators emphasized that if any of the witnesses of those events expressed disapproval, the script had to be corrected immediately.

There would be no Band of Brothers if it wasn’t for the success of Saving Private Ryan, the cinematic and, above all, spiritual prototype of HBO’s production. Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg seem to agree that the history of US military involvement in Europe requires broadening the context, and television provides such an opportunity. The series was shot for three years. A record budget was accumulated for those times, almost $ 120 million, which made it the most expensive production in the history of television at the time (we are talking about the times before Game of Thrones). Suffice it to say that during the filming of the third episode, in which E Company fights German troops in Carentan, France, the special effects crew used more pyrotechnics than during the entire shooting of Saving Private Ryan. It’s just momentum, isn’t it? No less interesting, the series turned out to be a ticket to a great career for many stars. On the screen, apart from the main actors, especially Damian Lewis, whom we saw later in Homeland, there are also cameo appearances by, for example, Tom Hardy, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy (the latter two met and became friends on the set of BoB).

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The effort paid off. Years later, Band of Brothers seems to be a product made of stainless steel. The story was perfectly conducted, showing the different nuances and landscapes of war. In my opinion, the most interesting episode is the one quoting the profile of the crew medic, whose everyday life was to observe the agony of his colleagues. I don’t think anyone was so dirty with the filth of war as “Doc”. Therefore, there is room for personal drama, there is room for deep sadness hidden in the eyes of the characters who miss home and stop believing in the sense of the mission in which they participate. But in Kompania there is also a place for dynamism, spectacular action scenes, including parachute jumps, explosions, firefights and other typical scenes of war cinema, in this case extremely bravado. The series is full of scenes full of blood, sweat and tears, which are also so damn authentic, so honestly true that they squeeze your throat hard every time. Sometimes, I admit, pathos emerges from them, but I have the impression that it meshes well with this particular style.

But what moved me the most was the extreme face of fear these soldiers had to face. It seems to us that the lazy society of the 21st century has something to be afraid of. That a dissatisfied boss is something that can paralyze us. That a complaining wife or a crying baby is something that can smother us. That mild symptoms are something that can break our spirit. But the real fear, the one hidden in the eyes of the devil himself, was seen by the members of E Company, and to make matters worse, they still had to be able to get used to it. The situations were different. Some went crazy, others made it their own way, and still others simply deserted, covering themselves with disgrace. The rest, however, held rifles in their hands and shivered in the dark forest, waiting for the enemy to come. This series is about them and about the impact these experiences have on the human spirit.

If I’m being honest with you, I cried hard the moment I saw the end credits of the 10th episode. I work at a museum. Many times I had the opportunity to hold a real rifle or helmet in my hand, objects that have those stories in their DNA. But I don’t think anything has made me more aware of the horrors of war than this series. First, I met the characters, I liked them, I became part of this company, and then I began to experience each subsequent death as if it were the death of someone close to me. You can read many books about World War II, but you won’t understand it until you see it with your own eyes. A substitute for this experience was given to us by HBO in 2001. That was probably the goal. To give viewers a perfect historical fantasy that goes straight to the heart by creating Band of Brothers.

Jakub Piwoński

Jakub Piwoński

Cultural expert, passionate about popular culture, in particular films, series, computer games and comics. He likes to fly away to unknown, fantastic regions, thanks to his fascination with science fiction. Professionally, however, he looks back more often, thanks to his work as a museum promotion specialist, investigating the mysteries of the beginnings of cinematography. His favorite film is "The Matrix", because it combines two areas close to his heart - religion and martial arts.

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