Series: Gallipoli. Limited edition four-disc set plus commemorative coffee table book. Price: $79.95
Series: Gallipoli. Limited edition four-disc set plus commemorative coffee table book. Price: $79.95 Picture Contributed

Nine in Anzac burn-off: Truth amid the drama

WHEN the seven-part series Gallipoli screened on Nine earlier this year it was billed as the first great television event of this year.

It started well, but its ratings soon dropped and the network decided to "burn off" episodes by running two a week. It's a little difficult to understand why.

The series is, on the whole, well acted, beautifully shot and admirably understated at a time when our centenary commemorations of the Gallipoli landings have gone close to a frenzy of glorification. But there was no glory in the landings, nor in the rest of the campaign, and Gallipoli pulls few punches.

The production shows the landings as they were - not under a storm of machine-gun fire but facing the greatest enemy of the Turkish terrain in those first few confused hours.

There are some confronting scenes that show the horror of what artillery does to human bodies, and some tender, heartbreaking moments too - in particular the simple and sometimes humorous exchanges between soldiers during the nine-hour truce on May 24 to collect the dead after a failed Turkish assault.

Gallipoli corrects the long-held misconception of the ill-fated charges at The Nek perpetuated by Peter Weir's beautiful 1981 film of the same name, explaining who was really behind the decision to keep sending line after line of men to their immediate death.

One difficulty with purporting to tell the truth is the things that need to be fictionalised. Some of the most important characters are made up, and so is the battalion of central character 17-year-old Tolly Johnson (Kodi SmitMcPhee) - they couldn't have been first ashore for the landings and at Lone Pine months later.

These were different battalions. But if you can accept the devices required to tell a good story, there are many, many more positives about Gallipoli than drawbacks.