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In which Amundsen makes progress and Scott gets progessively more irritated.

Episode Five: "The Glories of the Race"

The title could be accurate or sarcastic, depending on the expedition to which it refers. For Amundsen's group, which gets the lion's share of this episode's screen time, it is a fair description. For the British, it is wholly meant with a sneer. This is the episode with Cecil Meares's fabulous soliloquy that we are sure represents many of the men's private sentiments, respectful eulogies notwithstanding. The British did a lot of unnecessary suffering because Scott didn't listen to his men, and this speech sums everything up nicely.

It is absolutely astonishing in this episode how much actual skiing, sledging and hauling the actors had to do. There are no stuntpeople mentioned in the credits, so one can only assume they did all the work themselves. It has long been our dream to interview the actors to ask them how hard the work was, and if it was fun, and what kinds of things happened during shooting. If only we could get our hands on a bloopers reel!

The series does show its age in this episode, though, a weakness from which period pieces usually do not suffer: as the Norwegians are making their way through the mountains, they are accompanied by horribly goofy "disco-orchestra-with-wailing-sax-and-drum-kit" music, the kind that only the mid-eighties could produce. The English get the good music: stirring renditions of "Onward, Christian Soliders" and marches laced with Holst and Elgar. The Norwegians get Cagney and Lacey and perky, music box ditties. I guess that's one of the risks of beating the English to the pole.

But the scenery is magnificent (Greenland and Canada, from what we can tell), and the men look impressive driving their dogs and skiing down mountains.

This episode's delightful details:

When the Norwegians reach Shackleton's furthest south, the men break out in a Norwegian anthem fo some kind. Not only is is a stirring and beautiful anthem, the men all have beautiful voices.

We are constantly amazed at the skill with which the technical scenes were written. Trevor Griffiths has an uncanny ability to pick instances and details from an enormous amount of data that deftly show the strengths or weaknesses of the entire expedition: By showing Amundsen and Bjaaland discussing the quickest route to ski through the Transantarctic mountains, it shows Amundsen's foresight in taking his ski expert to the pole; By showing the British carefully and ritualistically donning their harnesses as they begin to man-haul the heavy sledges up the mountains, it demonstrates the English reverential outlook on hardship and failure: difficult circumstances of their own making bestow their actions with an aura of noble martyrhood.

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