Based on the book by Stephen Ambrose, and produced by Hollywood luminaries Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, Band of Brothers, the 2001 miniseries from HBO, is quite simply must-see television for anyone interested in World War II. With the involvement of major companies like DreamWorks and the BBC, the series achieves an unprecedented level of detail, in terms of both story and production.
The story is that of a single airborne company, “Easy Company” of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, and its three-year involvement in the war, from boot camp to combat. Using the serial format of television, the series traces the entire span of that participation, interweaving personal and military action throughout—an achievement all but impossible within the limited framework of a feature film.
Unlike typical TV production, however, the producers spared no expense. They hired renowned military advisor Capt. Dale Dye (Platoon, Casualties of War). They put the cast through WWII-like airborne training. They built an entire village on a lot in Hertfordshire, England. They spent over $120 million, reportedly the most ever for a television series. (By comparison, the 1998 HBO program From Earth to the Moon cost a reported $60 million.)
The investment was definitely well placed. The story of Easy Company is literally the stuff of legend. The freeing of western Europe remains one of the most important stories of the 20th century and its military aspects among the most compelling. And as Ambrose did with the book, the series wisely centers the story on its most human elements: the personal struggles of the soldiers, their fears, exhaustion, and eventual triumphs.
In particular, the series follows Lt. Richard Winters, played by British actor Damian Lewis, and Lt. Lewis Nixon, played by Ron Livingston (Office Space, Sex and the City). We meet the pair in Episode 1, during the company’s brutal infantry training at Camp Toccoa, Ga., and then follow the two through the company’s eventful tour of Europe, including D-Day (Episode 2), Operation Market Garden (Episode 4), and the Battle of the Bulge (Episode 6).
For emotional impact, Episode 9, “Why We Fight,” is particularly noteworthy. Directed by David Frankel, it’s arguably the darkest episode of the series as it depicts the company’s discovery of a concentration camp, while also showing the extent of Nixon’s emotional difficulties in coping with the war. Additionally, each episode is introduced by interview footage of actual E Company veterans.
In short, if you haven’t already seen Band of Brothers on television, then it’s well worth seeking out. It’s currently available for purchase in a special DVD collector’s edition that features Ron Livingston’s video diary and a documentary entitled We Stand Alone Together: The Men of Easy Company ($79.98 list). The set is also available for rent from Blockbuster Video.