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10 Best TV Shows About World War I

World War I — alternatively known as the Great War — began in 1914 after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and lasted until 1918. The war pitted the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany, and the Ottoman Empire) against the Allied Powers (Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Romania, Russia, and later the United States). Thanks to advancements in military technology and the reliance on trench and aerial warfare, WWI had extremely high levels of bloodletting and destruction of infrastructure. The Allied Powers eventually won, but more than 16 million people were dead by the time the armistice came into play.



Today, there are hundreds of movies for anyone wanting to learn more about the senseless belligerence of this conflict. However, TV shows are always a better option for anyone wishing to spend more time with the characters. Whether it’s imaginary tales that use the war as a backdrop or true stories about soldiers, civilians, and leaders that shaped the course of the conflict, these small-screen productions offer enough information, drama, or action to satisfy any war buff.

10 The Monocled Mutineer (1986)

Based on William Allison and John Fairley’s book of the same name, The Monocled Mutineer covers the Etapls mutiny of 1917 where junior soldiers at Etaples — the British Expeditionary Force’s key depot and transit station in France — rebelled against their seniors because of the brutality they had been subjected to. The series caused plenty of controversy when it first aired, with the Right-wing British media accusing the producers of Left-wing bias.

Playing Fast and Loose with Facts

The show exaggerates several things, but this boosts its quality instead of damaging it. For example, the mutiny leader is said to be a soldier named Percy Toplis (Paul McGann). He is as cool and gallant as military heroes come. He wears a monocle and speaks like Alexander the Great. He even manages to flee and avoid the punishment his fellow mutineers eventually face. However, the real Toplis never participated in the revolt.

Various historical accounts have confirmed that Toplis’ military unit was en route to India when the Etaples mutiny happened. Still, while the press and the Thatcher government fumed, everyone acknowledged The Monocled Mutineer’s awesomeness. The show was nominated for nine BAFTAs and watched by over 10 million people.

9 Women at War (2022)

War-related memes targeted at feminists always imply that women had it easy during the two world wars because they weren’t in the trenches. Women at War proves that this wasn’t the case. The Franco-Belgian production has four central characters. One is Agnes (Julie de Bona), the Mother Superior of a convent that doubles as a makeshift hospital; Marguerite (Audrey Fleurot), a French prostitute; Suzanne (Camille Lou), an abortionist nurse; and Caroline (Sofia Essaïdi), who manages her husband’s truck factory while he is away fighting. The four women face various patriarchy-related challenges, and their lives often intertwine.

Social Battles at a Time of Physical Warfare

Fans of female-led war stories will enjoy Women at War because of how committed the main characters are while trying to overcome their problems. For Suzanne, wounded citizens aren’t her only worry. There is a Parisian detective determined to kill her, hence her arcs play out like a fugitive film. Through the character, the pro-choice and pro-life debate is also discussed.

Marguerite’s story, on the other hand, accentuates the complexities of employer-employee relations. She is revealed to be in a feud with a brothel owner, and things often get out of control. Mother Agnes has bigger problems, too, as she has to find ways to get rid of a priest who is sexually abusing young trainees. Additionally, she finds herself conflicted after falling for one of her patients, yet she has taken a vow of celibacy. Then there’s Caroline, whose brother-in-law feels a woman shouldn’t be in charge of a car factory, so he fights her for control.

Action fans need not worry as the series isn’t just pure drama. There are a few emotional battle sequences, notably one where Germans use gas against French troops. The effects are so bad that the doctors end up being clueless regarding ways to treat them. Stream on Netflix.

Related: 10 Gripping Drama Series Set During the Cold War

8 Gallipoli (2015)

The mindset of young people in the early 20th century might baffle the current generation that prefers tranquility and safety. Back then, teenagers dreamed of fighting for the country, so they gladly enlisted in the military. Such is the kind of character Tony (Kodi Smit-McPhee) from Gallipoli is. Despite not being of legal age, the 17-year-old fakes his documents, so that he can join his older brother in battle in the Gallipoli Peninsula. He soon learns about the harsh realities of war.

A Show About Water Breaks

Gallipoli is a show about water breaks. It captures what happens when bullets aren’t flying, hence showing the human side of men in war. Viewers can thus expect banter about farts and unusual moments where opposing sides of the war spare some time to clear dead bodies while shouting shady burns at each other.

Because of this approach, the show also feels like a history lecture. By the time the credits roll in the finale, any viewer will have encyclopedic knowledge about the Gallipoli campaign of 1915 to 1916, and how it helped shape the national identities of New Zealand and Australia. Stream for free on Tubi.

7 The Fall of the Empire (2005)

It is widely believed that World War I could have had fewer casualties if countries involved had better spies. Britannica puts it bluntly, stating that the conflict is “often cited in hindsight as a tragic failure of intelligence.” At the beginning of the war, most countries didn’t have the strong espionage networks they do now, and The Fall of the Empire examines what the situation was like for Russia.

Events are seen through the eyes of counterintelligence officer Sergei Pavlovich Kostin (Aleksandr Baluev), as he struggles to make the most out of limited resources while jumping over bureaucratic hoops.

The Usual Spy Ingredients

The Fall of the Empire offers the same kind of serving that most good spy shows do. There are standard espionage remarks such as “Clear the room!”, “Subject has been neutralized,” ”You have a visual?”, “The asset has been compromised,” and “We have to contain this. Most importantly, the show reminds everyone that there is more to war than fighting and making orders.

Overall, fact and fiction are amalgamated beautifully. None of the main characters existed, but supporting figures like Lavr Kornilov and Nadezhda Krupskaya all existed over a century ago when the war was fought.

6 37 Days (2014)

“37 Days” is the time it took for Britain to declare war on Germany after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. Britain’s entry officially marked the start of the war, and 37 Days examines what happened during those three weeks before the decision was made. The series, therefore, spares viewers of the horrors of the battlefield and takes them into cabinet boardrooms where politicians and war-hawk generals craft strategies and figure out how best to flex their military power.

The Complicated Origins of the War

What immediately becomes clear while watching 37 Days is that there was more to the genesis than just an Archduke. Nationalism, imperialism, and all other sorts of “isms” contributed to the fighting in one way or the other. It was more like a rap beef. Britain didn’t want it, and the foreign secretary, Sir. Edward Grey tried to be as diplomatic as possible.

Still, a “diss track” had been recorded by the enemy, so they had to respond. This is, therefore, the kind of show that’s likely to please fans of political thrillers in the same way it’ll please history buffs. With each passing episode, there is a reminder of how many days are left until the war begins.

5 Wings (1977-1978)

Not to be confused with the Best-Picture-winning movie from 1927, Wings traces British citizen Alan Farmer’s career trajectory, starting with his days as a blacksmith to his days as a fighter pilot during World War I. Farmer is also shown to have the kind of friend no one ever wishes for. The disloyal man named Gaylion begins dating Farmer’s girlfriend as soon as fake news about the pilot’s death spreads around.

A Look at Classism in the Military

The public tends to assume that every military wing is in harmony with each other, but that’s never the case. Wings reveals that because of their superior education and a higher salary, pilots always looked down on trench soldiers. Farmer thus finds himself facing resentment from junior officers, despite not being mean like his fellow airmen.

Perhaps due to a limited budget, the flying sequences are not Top Gun level, but viewers are unlikely to be irked by this. What the series lacks in satisfactory aerial dogfights, it makes up for in the story and dialogue.

4 1915 (1982)

Based on Roger McDonald’s novel, 1915: A Novel of Gallipoli, 1915 is a coming-of-age story that follows teenagers Walter (Scott McGregor) and Billy (Scott Burgess) as they morph from stubborn teenagers in rural Australia to disillusioned soldiers for the First Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in World War I.

Like many other youngsters at the time, they sign up for the military believing it would be an enjoyable experience defined by banter, enemy-slaying, and chest-thumping, only to realize that the battlefield is another form of hell.

A Pre-War Story Worth Caring About War

1915’s battle sequences are nothing viewers haven’t seen before. The story that’s told before the two men go to war is what makes the show one of the best in its genre. Before he ever gets to fire a gun, Billy is shown to be a Casanova type of guy. He oozes a bad-boy aura and is so charming that both single and married women offer to unclasp their brasseries for him. Walter, on the other hand, is more disciplined and shy, but this doesn’t stop them from becoming friends.

As the show dwells on the main characters’ friendship journey, viewers are treated to brilliant cinematography, aided by picturesque scenery. There are shots of pubs, railway stations, and large ranches… all showing how beautiful life can (and should be) in a world without war.

3 Parade’s End (2012)

Years before Benedict Cumberbatch opened portals to the multiverse and scolded Spider-Man, he was the British aristocrat Christopher Tietjens in Parade’s End. In the show, the government statistician’s headaches aren’t exactly war-related. He has a cheating wife, and he also happens to be in love with a young suffragette. As he figures out what to do, the horrors of World War I begin unfolding.

The Higher-Brow Downton Abbey

In his review for The Hollywood Reporter, Tim Goodman referred to the show as “the higher-brow Downton Abbey” because “it’s less soapy.” The phrase stuck, with many critics going to compare it to what is one of the greatest shows about the ‘20s. Sure, Parade’s End is more sophisticated, but it’s the wonderful performances that enable it to shine brighter.

Cumberbatch was nominated for an Emmy for his efforts while Rebecca Hall (who plays Crissy’s promiscuous wife) was nominated for a BAFTA. The two leads wonderfully convey their characters’ conflicting moral perspectives, making them both likable and detestable in equal measure. Stream on Max.

2 When We Go to War (2015)

When We Go to War‘s plot is centered around the entrepreneurial Smith family in Auckland, New Zealand, explaining what life was like for its members before (and during the war). The plot is structured in the form of letters, so each episode is mainly based on written communication from one character to another. Many events in the show take place in Alexandria, and there is a good reason for that. During the war, the Allies hoped to destroy this location because it was a strategic railway center for the Ottoman Empire.

A Buffet of Exciting Characters

The show’s plot isn’t the best thing about it… the characters are. Whether it is a protofeminist nurse who enjoys fornicating as much as she enjoys conducting autopsies, or a black sheep family member who would rather spend time in opium dens than sign up for war, there is no shortage of intriguing individuals.

When We Go to War also examines many social issues that ran parallel to the war. For example, members of several New Zealand tribes were conflicted about joining the military because they feared their land would be stolen once they were away. In line with that, there is a legal subplot to complement the war and romance stories. Stream for free on Tubi.

RELATED: Best Military-Themed TV Shows of All Time

1 The Passing Bells (2014)

The Passing Bells tells parallel stories from both sides of the World War I divide. One of the main characters is the German, Michael (Jack Lowden) and the other one is the Brit, Tommy (Patrick Gibson). Both men join the military at the start of the war and face various challenges stemming from both their careers and their personal lives. At some point, their stories intertwine, with Michael now a POW, and Tommy now one of the soldiers that’s guarding the captives.

Less Violent than Other War TV Dramas

Genre fans looking for a war drama that is appropriate for family viewing ought to settle for The Passing Bells. It’s written by Tony Jordan (best known for the soap opera, The Eastenders), and aired in the early non-watershed time of 7 pm in Britain. Despite the lack of bloodletting, it isn’t a dull show.

There are plenty of powerful moments, such a when Tommy, who used to enjoy drawing birds at home, draws another one in the mud of the trenches. Stream on BritBox.

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