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Arts & Culture

The Somme - From Defeat To Victory

General Baron Franz von Soden (Rudiger Kuhlbrodt) inspects the German front trenches.
Courtesy of Tim Hetherington/BBC (2006)
General Baron Franz von Soden (Rudiger Kuhlbrodt) inspects the German front trenches.

Airs Monday, May 26, 2014 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Based on real accounts, "The Somme - From Defeat To Victory" follows a group of friends from the north of England, mates from the local church, who joined up together to fight for king and country. Walter Fiddes was a shop assistant, Stephen Sharples a builder, and Thomas Mellor a travelling salesman. They would fight – and die – side by side on 1 July 1916, just three of the 20,000 who fell on the first day of the Somme. It was the bloodiest day in British military history.

But there was much more to the Somme than senseless slaughter. This program challenges the traditional view of the battle as a disaster and reveals how it was the Somme that taught the British Army how to fight a modern war. The film shows how men like Lt. Colonel Frank Maxwell and Private Frederick Edwards would help turn initial defeat into ultimate victory.

Two months after the failure of 1 July, Maxwell, a maverick battalion commander, led a daring raid on the German positions where Mellor, Fiddes, and Sharples had been killed.

The fighting was savage, but with the help of innovative tactics – such as the ‘creeping barrage’ and one of the first ever tanks – Maxwell, Edwards and company eventually defeated their German enemy. Private Edwards, who couldn’t read or write, won the Victoria Cross for his heroics and Lt. Colonel Maxwell was promoted to command a brigade.

The Somme mixes realistic drama based on historically- sourced actual events, archive and documentary footage and CGI to bring the extraordinary events of the Somme to life for a modern audience. It has been made with the advice of some of the world’s top military historians. The result is a film that is both deeply moving and offers a radical new perspective on the Somme, putting the terrible events of 1 July into their proper historical context.

Distributed by BBC Worldwide.