Following very much in the footsteps of previous grand-scale
historical documentaries, such as The World at War and Peoples Century,
the much advertised, and in some circles at least, much anticipated, Cold War, a 24
part series charting the politics of the postwar world, launched in the UK (BBC) and the
US (CNN) in the Autumn of 1998.
The producers, Martin Smith and Jeremy
Issacs, wanted to
"tell a universal, not a partisan story", and to tell it "simply and
directly", trying to "get it right and present you with a guide you can
trust", to which end, "We check testimony and every fact against a valid source
and an objective record." In doing so, the team working on the series set out to
obtain "the most vivid and relevant interviewees and archive film and to ensure that
viewing each film is a rewarding and engaging experience." : in which task they were
ably assisted by the three main historical consultants to the programmes Lawrence
Freedman (UK), John Lewis Gaddis (USA) and Valdislav Zubok (Russia).
In the following commentaries, undergraduate and postgraduate
students at the University of Birmingham, following courses that expressly examine the
role of film and television in the construction of history, review two Cold War
episodes. The following reviews engage not only with the specifics of the content and
production of particular episodes, but also, on occasion, with the overall ethos of the
series, and with broader considerations of history, media, objectivity and validity. I
would like to thank Dr. W. Scott Lucas and his undergraduate and postgraduate students for
their assistance in this review project.