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© 2000 WGBH Educational Foundation

The Masterpiece Theatre Theatre

Now playing: The Last Place on Earth

The Last Place on Earth is a seven-part miniseries first shown on Masterpiece Theatre in 1985. Based on the book by Roland Huntford (originally published as Scott and Amundsen), it chronicles the 1910-1912 race for the South Pole between England's Robert Falcon Scott and Norway's Roald Amundsen. The mini-series, directed by Ferdinand Fairfax and written by Trevor Griffiths, is brilliantly conceived, written and acted. Going against all "Hollywood" casting tenets, the Norwegian parts are played by actual Norwegians (and one Swedish national). Amundsen is played by Sverre Anker Ousdal, admittedly our favorite, while the remaining crew were plucked from Norway's National Theatre. The British players were culled from the huge stores of talent that keep the BBC producing such great shows. Perhaps we enthuse too much, but in a time when Hollywood routinely fictionalizes history, Joe Eszterhaus can be considered a "writer" and Winona Ryder thinks she can carry a romantic comedy, it's just so nice to see a production where quality and accuracy is so highly regarded.

We realise that many of you may not have background, stamina or obsession enough to watch this series many times to catch every nuance, so we've done the deconstruction for you. Please remember it has been far too long since our one and only film studies class, so there will be no discussion of mise-en-scene, no talk of the meta-narrative, no wan references to post structuralism. Just our thoughts about why The Last Place on Earth is so damn good.

© 1985 Carlton UK Television

If you haven't seen the miniseries yet, we urge you to visit Kevin McCorry's Last Place on Earth Synopsis site. He does an excellent job encapsulating the action from episode to episode. We assume in our episode guides that you have either seen the series or know the story. Also, in celebration of Masterpiece Theatre's 30th anniversary, Exxon, et al have posted the transcripts from each series they've shown. Here's what Alistair Cooke has to say about The Last Place on Earth. They broke up the episodes a bit differently than I have them here, so you'll find his introductions in six instead of seven parts.

In The Last Place on Earth, the screenwriter does something so extraordinary, so rarely seen in movies today, that mention must be made: he does not underestimate his audience. Circumstances are not overexplained; there is no superfluous expository dialog meant to underline, italicize and belabor the point; there are no extra characters expressly there to explain technical things to characters who would already know such information. Better still, there are comments and situations thrown in as inside jokes or little known facts that proves the writer to have done his homework.

Here we outline the oblique references, the finest acting and yes, even goofs, episode by episode:

Bonus goof! Check out the poster from Masterpiece Theatre for the series. It's got Britain's flag and... Iceland's flag? For those of you not in the know, that's Norway's flag over there to the right...

Episode One: "Poles Apart"

Episode Two: "Minor Diversions"

Episode Three: "Leading Men"

Episode Four: "Gentlemen and Players"

Episode Five: "The Glories of the Race"

Episode Six: "Foregone Conclusion"

Episode Seven: "Rejoice"

Copyright © 2000, 2001 Emily Slatten; about framheim; about the pictures