This week on Prime’s groundbreaking docu-drama series War News, correspondents Jack Crawford (Jason Whyte) and Paul Jameson (Richard Dey) are live with the New Zealand troops as they secretly and stealthily evacuate from Gallipoli under cover of darkness on 20th December 1915.
The Gibson Group series, created with NZ On Air’s prestigious Platinum Fund, transports viewers to WWI by placing a TV current affairs team at the coalface of the war. The team reports to anchor Ray Harkness (Mark Mitchinson) and war expert Robyn Michaels (Nathalie Boltt) in the studio.
In this special bulletin, thousands of ANZAC troops must vanish in plain sight of the enemy. Crawford demonstrates a self-firing rifle and describes other clever diversionary measures designed to keep the Ottomans from realising a full-scale evacuation is underway. Jameson, meanwhile, attempts to connect a young soldier with his family back home in New Zealand.
Shot at Red Rocks on Wellington’s South Coast, the episode also has gripping footage from the personal video diary of Lt Col William Malone atop Chunuk Bair, and features key moments in the gruelling Gallipoli campaign, including the shambolic landing on April 25th, 1915.
“I can’t imagine what Gallipoli must have been like, even now,” says Richard Dey, who plays correspondent Paul Jameson. “We recreated the landing with roughly fifteen people. The real thing would have been a horror to witness.”
The episode stars two of The Hobbit’s dwarves. Peter Hambleton (Gloin) appears in defensive mode as New Zealand Prime Minister William Massey, while a poignant Jed Brophy (Nori) plays Jack Allison, the father of two brothers who fought on Gallipoli, one of whom was killed in battle.
Dey was intrigued by the concept of a WWI correspondent being able to report directly back to a studio in New Zealand. “Communication was near non-existent. There was no immediacy, no direct connection, and I have a sense that that would have added to the hopelessness, fear and loneliness.
“Here we are, recreating one of the bloodiest times in our war history and saying imagine if you could have a direct line to our troops? What would you say if you could witness the atrocity unfolding before your eyes?”
Like many, actor Nathalie Boltt, who plays War News war expert Robyn Michaels, finds the Gallipoli story “devastating. Just the idea that you could die because that’s what you’ve promised to do”.
In this episode, the War News team alsotakes the time to consider the impact of the war on the soldiers and civilians of the Ottoman Empire.
War News writer David Brechin-Smith says he wanted to “try and present a reasonably balanced view, and not make War News into a patriotic, jingoistic series. It's easy to forget that the enemy soldiers on the front line were much like our soldiers - young guys, mostly civilians. It was important to convey that the other side suffered too.”
The lasting link between the ANZACs and the Ottomans is highlighted in a moving statement from ANZAC commander General Alexander Godley (Simon Smith) to the Ottoman forces: “Our men have fallen, far from home, and they deserve that a gallant foe should take special care of their last resting place.”