Picks and Pans Review: War and Remembrance
Finally. After 47½ hours on the air over six years, Winds of War and War and Remembrance come to a close with five final episodes this month. In the end, it ranks as one of the great disappointments in the history of TV. It is the megaseries with the mini-brain. It is world history as told by the Sunday comics. It is a sloppily plotted, poorly acted potboiler about World War II and the Holocaust. Dynasty meets Dante. At long, long last, you do get to find out whether Robert Mitchum the admiral and Victoria Tennant the Brit beauty will make their love legal (it took Sam and Diane a tenth the time on Cheers). You discover whether Polly Bergen the ditzy military wife will ever shut up. You see whether David Dukes the bureaucrat can find justice in this world. And in the same show, you find out whether Sir John Gielgud and Jane Seymour can survive the concentration camps. Mitchum still does his impression—and a fine one it is—of stone. ("Well, say something!" Bergen yells at him, speaking for all America. "Don't just sit there like a sphinx!") The other big star, Gielgud, does his best with a role that is woefully incomplete. He plays a lapsed Jew who is forced to become an elder in a concentration camp, so he must choose the names of those who will live and those who will be sent away to die. But the show's writers do not have—or they presume that we do not have—the intelligence to grapple with this terrible moral conflict; they don't delve that deep. Gielgud tries to make up for what's missing by giving the role all he can—dignity—but it is not enough. His co-star, Seymour, clearly demonstrates that she has made one mini too many. And the rest of the acting, from Bergen on down, is as overdone as a landscape painted on velvet. On one level, War is simply silly. But on another level, it is monumentally wrongheaded. To take the Holocaust—the camps, the gas chambers, the ovens and mass graves—and to script it, cast it, design it, costume it, light it, shoot it in drawn-out detail and finally, to set it all to music in a show such as this is to turn this unimaginable evil into one more prime-time plot line. I know that the producers did not intend to trivialize genocide—but they did. So I am left with but one good thing to say about Winds of War and Remembrance: It's over.
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