The Real Band of Brothers – DVD

Let’s begin with some brief clarification; if your attention has been drawn to this documentary series purely by the title, you may have basis to feel slightly misled. There is no denying that The Real Band of Brothers is indeed a true account of the U.S. Airborne Division that provided the basis for Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks’ much loved miniseries, but if you are expecting an explicit account of the particular individuals that gave those characters life, you will not find it here. What you find, however, is a well documented history of the paratroop regiments as a whole, starting from their unit’s conception and ending with a look at their continued legacy. The result is both captivating and eductional.

At first, The Real Band of Brothers may not seem like much to look at. The yellow-on-black title screens that break up the episodes look distinctly low budget, resembling the sort of thing you may find in a hastily edited YouTube video. Don’t let it put you off. Keep watching and you will discover a fascinating documentary, deftly portrayed through remarkable first-hand interviews and wonderful archive footage.

Episode one starts at the very beginning, detailing the birth of the U.S. airborne. With these soldiers being the first to receive their basic training in coordination with their jump lessons, we get a real sense of the excitement they had at being a part of something new. Yet charming stories soon give way to compelling drama as the men – now known as the Screaming Eagles – face their first combat drop into occupied France. Caught under heavy German fire, we hear how their planes split formation, forcing the men to jump too low and at full speed, causing their equipment to scatter everywhere – if they were lucky enough to make it out at all. Fortunately, such chaos was to work in their favour. Sensing no pattern in the way the troops landed, the German’s had no idea how to apply their defences. The survivors went on to take part in some of the war’s most crucial assaults.

Brothers In Arms.

What amazes most, though, is the constant sense of both good nature and camaraderie. Shown a sign marking a victory in the French town of Bastiogne, we read the words; “Bastiogne Bastion of the Battered Bastards of the 101st” – it is a sense of humour that extends to the interviewees’ descriptions of the other allied forces. They tell of cool Brits who would stroll calmly from flaming tanks, offering cigarettes along the way, and of the frustrated and half-starved Russians who they were glad to have on their side. “They must’ve been meaner than hell!”, one man laughs.

Yet with the testimony never being glamorized or glorified, there is also plenty of room for emotion, as demonstrated by one man’s tearful tale of how a young girl became caught in his crossfire. As we reach the series’ final episode, such horror stories increase as we leave World War II and focus instead on the 101st’s contribution to Vietnam. It is during this final forty minute installment that we realise just how far the story of the Screaming Eagles extends beyond the missions retold on HBO. There’s a vast amount of history on offer here, it’s just a shame the makers had to cling to Spielberg’s title in order to tell it.

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