Passing Bells

Passing Bells

5 / 5

Poignant homage to the fallen heroes.

British broadcasting was at its finest during the week marking the centenary of the start of the First World War. Passing Bells is a drama following the lives of two young men, a British and German soldier, from their excited, proud and dutiful beginnings to the drastically changed men that the most destructive war of all time had on these two young men.  

Passing Bells Image

Thomas and Michael go to war with the shared fanciful notion that the war would be over by Christmas, however, that saying was to become a saying depressingly spat out by the soldiers the longer the war continued to drag on. The story gains its soul through the time spent in the fateful trenches, with soldiers’ deaths and fears equally present. A particular moving and poignant moment in the drama was during the truce at the battle of Gallipoli, where brilliantly composed music played in the background as soldiers on both sides were allowed to gather the dead and tend to the wounded. There were no words spoken in this scene, which allowed for the horror of the situation to be taking in completely.

With many war dramas and films, there is a lack of focus paid to the friends, lovers and family waiting at home for them. But the Passing Bells writers do not follow the same path, as they show the typical worry and sadness of the soldiers’ mothers and the pride and love from their fathers. German soldier Michael also has a girl at home who he marries during a brief spell on leave and whom he writes to while in the dastardly trenches. Both Michael and Thomas write home to their families, but both of them mask the true horrors and danger that observe and participate in on a daily basis.

As the drama unfolds, and with both of them participating in some of the worst battles of the First World War, their lives cross on a couple of occasions with both of them sparing each other’s lives, showing that there was some brief glimpses of humanity in the war. Another key theme of the drama was that the German soldiers were not very different than the English soldiers, which is also an aspect of filmmaking that tends not to be an issue.

This BBC drama demonstrates the excellence in British filmmaking and a beautiful homage to WW1 during the centenary year. The writers and actors were superb, with a finely balance of poignancy, remembrance and true aspects of war. Both Paddy Gibson (Thomas) and Jack Lowden (Michael) were brilliant, and I have no doubt in saying this is perhaps one of the best war dramas ever made.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?

Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.

The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

       Wilfred Owen

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