Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. TV & Radio
27 December 2016updated 03 Aug 2021 12:04pm

Band of Brothers is a wartime epic that touches on eternity

By Clive James

With Christmas coming, my younger daughter and I, the fanatical pacesetters in a whole family of binge-watchers, are deciding whether our number-one rerun for the season will be The West Wing or Band of Brothers. To qualify for the winter spot, the chosen show has be: a) big, b) great and c) full of groovy people. Nice as it would be to have The West Wing remind us that American presidential politics is not necessarily a madhouse after all, we seem to be favouring, at the moment, Band of Brothers, not having seen enough of Damian Lewis lately, except dressed as Henry VIII and treating women badly: not something he is plausible at doing. We have discussed watching Homeland again, but in that one the gorgeous Damian goes missing halfway through, hanged from a crane because the locals think that ginger hair is an insult to the Prophet, or something like that.

Personally, if I were given my choice of long-term Christmas viewing, I would put the 1980 miniseries Shogun back on screen and let it stay there until I croaked, but the women in my family are all too aware that my reasons for loving the show include the opalescent presence of Yoko Shimada. Long ago, in Japan, I did the tea ceremony with her and it was like dancing with Rita Hayworth, slowed down by a thousand times. In Play All, my book about binge-watching, I picked the BBC’s I, Claudius as the possible true ancestor of the box-set-binge phenomenon, but I now think that Shogun was the more likely progenitor. It had everything, including the unprecedented spectacle of Toshiro Mifune being subtle. (Which genius was it who said that “Toshiro Mifune” sounded like “no smoking” in Japanese?)

Whatever: Shogun’s vast format fed a new hunger and it led us to the satisfaction we can get now only when Joffrey, the nasty boy-king in Game of Thrones, ponces about lethally for months on end before he gets it in the neck. We’d be watching it again this time if we hadn’t only just finished watching it again last time.

But no, it has to be Band of Brothers. You know something is on an epic scale when even a small piece of it breathes open space, which is to say that it touches on eternity. The little scene where Malarkey picks up the laundry parcels for the missing men takes me back to a time when the fathers of my generation were risking their lives. But I never had to explain that to my children because the show explained it better than I could. To have seen at least part of a time when popular entertainment has become so substantial is a great privilege, and I bless it without reserve. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to start dropping hints about how much I’d like to see Westworld

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them