Monday’s TV: World War II Documentary doesn’t poke behind the right doors

November 10, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

WORLD WAR II: BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, BBC2, Monday 10th November, 9pm Alert me

History is a lot like an important bank document: on the surface it seems to offer a straightforward deal, but delve into the small print and things can get really ugly, really fast.

World War II: Behind Closed Doors is a six-part BBC documentary series that aims to delve into this small print, so to speak, unravelling the fine threads – “the secret history? – that lay beneath the conflict. Essentially, what unfurls are a tangle of double-dealings that Dell Boy would be proud of and more twists than the Saw movies – all five of them.

At it’s heart, the series focuses on the political menage-a-trois between Churchill, Roosevelt and mass-murdering tyrant Joseph Stalin (yes, the one that looks like an overweight Tom Selleck) during the course of the global conflict.

Episode one delves into the non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union governed by Stalin and Hitler’s Nazi Germany. The dramatised diplomatic proceedings between these two strange political bedfellows are interwoven with the typical mosaic of live war footage, harrowing interviews, maps and photographs.

It’s pretty powerful stuff. Juxtaposed with the lavish banquets between diplomats, who, incidentally, can’t seem to go on for longer than fifteen seconds without lighting a cigarette, are the personal accounts from the victims of war. One particularly harrowing scene shows an elderly woman describing her torture at the hands of Soviet soldiers: “I had a black scar on my neck and it wouldn’t heal,? she says, before going on to explain that the beatings were a regular occurrence and her hair was torn out until she was left bald. Seeing her succumb to anxiety-spasms and tears doesn’t just tug on your heart strings but yanks on them, drags them through the mud and knots them real tight.

Unfortunately, this is also the moment where my real major problem with WWII: BCD occurred.

While it aptly portrays the life of Stalin, albeit under an oddly sympathetic light (he seems to be followed by solemn violin-playing wherever he goes) it tends to give us only blink-quick insights into the lives of those victims. And with the documentary being an hour long, they are reduced to bit-part players. Walk on characters. The guys with red shirts form Star Trek – never there for longer than a few minutes. Sad, because these, more than any others are the closed doors I want opened.

World War II: Behind Closed Doors has all the ingredients to make it a shiny beacon of success in a dull sea of samey historical documentaries, though they are still missing a crucial balance. For episode one at least, it proves to be a little too much World War II and not enough Behind Closed Doors.

By Alejandro Ahmadi-Gestoso