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27 December 2016

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

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