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Series / 37 Days

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Kaiser Wilhelm (watching the departing troop trains): Stop this. Stop it.
Moltke: It cannot be stopped now, sire.

37 Days is a three-part BBC mini-series starring Ian McDiarmid, first broadcast on BBC Two on 6 March 2014 as part of the World War I centenary commemorations. The series covers the weeks between the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 18 June 1914 to the British declaration of war on Germany on 4 August that year, with a focus on the inner workings of the British and German governments during that period.

Despite the dedication to historical accuracy and the aim of educating the public about the events leading to war, the series is more of a character study than a straight historical docudrama, with a primary focus on the motivations, flaws and misjudgments of the various men who led Europe into war in the summer of 1914.

The three episodes are:

  • One Month in Summer (6 March 2014)
  • One Week in July (7 March 2014)
  • One Long Weekend (8 March 2014)

This series provides examples of:

  • Affectionate Nickname: Wilhelm and Nicholas II refer to each other as "Willy" and "Nicky" respectively... while threatening war upon each other.
  • Almighty Janitor: Margot Asquith appears to have a better grasp of what’s going on than anyone in the British cabinet, including her husband, the Prime Minister.
  • Artistic License – History: Sir Edward states he never travelled. The real Grey did visit Germany in 1912 with a diplomatic delegation.
  • "Ass" in Ambassador:
    • Sir Edward's attitude towards the Austrian ambassador.
    • The Austrian ambassador to Berlin also gets openly shouted at by Bethmann-Hollweg.
  • Balance of Power: The series largely deals with how this system between the major European powers collapsed.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: Kaiser Wilhelm, Nicholas II and George V are all the grandchildren of Queen Victoria, and the heads of the rival German, Russian and British powers respectively.
  • Blue Blood: Most of the characters are some form of aristocrats, especially those in high-end government positions.
  • British Brevity: Three episodes, each one an hour long.
  • Brutal Honesty: Churchill uses this against Edward Grey, with the immortal remark "Affability is not a strategy."
  • Character Narrator: The series is narrated by clerks in the British Foreign Office and the German Chancellery.
  • Costume Drama: The fashions and styles of the time are recreated in the series, from the Edwardian suits and tophats of the British to the military uniforms of Imperial Germany.
  • The Dandy: The Austrian ambassador in Berlin.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Edward Grey's wife was killed when thrown off a horse. His younger brother was killed by a buffalo. His older brother was eaten by a lion.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Winston Churchill, naturally. David Lloyd George has his moments, too.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The racist attitudes taken towards the Serbs, the casual attitudes towards war and the sexist condescension towards Margot Asquith.
  • Democracy Is Flawed: Edward Grey is very critical of "democratic diplomacy", and feels that the responsibility of managing international affairs should be left to the in-the-know elite (i.e. him).
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Austria's demands of Serbia are seen as this even by her German allies, and many assume that Austria made them with the expectation that they would be rejected and thus give a cause for war. To everyone's surprise, Serbia accepts the sanctions, and Austria's continued pressure despite the compliance means Russia feels ever more obliged to protect Serbia.
  • Docudrama: A historically-accurate account of the run up to World War I (created at least in part with the intention of dispelling some myths about these events) mixed with a character study about the motivations and flaws of the various characters.
  • The Edwardian Era: The series takes place during the final days of this period in history.
  • The Emperor:
    • Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and Emperor Franz-Joseph of Austria-Hungary all appear.
    • As does King George V of Britain, who was also Emperor of India.
  • The Empire: The British, German, Russian and Austrian ones all play big roles, although the Germans and Austrians comes closest to filling the traditional role (not least because of the uniforms).
  • End of an Era: Of the genteel Edwardian period: "The lamps are going out all over Europe. We may not see them lit again in our time."
  • Establishing Shot: Various famous locations and buildings are used to establish where in Europe we are e.g. 10 Downing Street for London, the Brandenburg Gate for Berlin, Saint Basil's for Moscow, etc.
  • Everyone Is Related: George V, Wilhelm II and Nicholas II are all grandchildren of Queen Victoria. Similarly, the German, Austrian and Russian diplomats are referred to as "the Cousins" in the British Foreign Office (because they are).
  • Exposition: The narrators take the time to fill the audience in on several characters' backgrounds and the state of the world at large.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: World War I is going to happen, and everyone is going to get sucked into it.
  • For Want Of A Nail: There are many other factors riding on the situation, but in the end, the First World War appears to happen because Edward Grey put the phone down for a moment during a call to the German ambassador, because he had to sign a piece of paper, which resulted in he and Lichnowsky catastrophically misunderstanding what they were saying to each other.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Both Margot Asquith and Sir Edward have accepted the inevitability of a coming war in Ireland. The series itself is all about showing how World War I was not inevitable, however.
  • Foreshadowing: Margot Asquith comments on Ireland serves as this for the coming war.
    "There will be blood. You've all let it slide too far."
  • General Ripper: Helmuth von Moltke, German Chief of Staff, is desperate to start a war with France so that he can emulate his uncle-and-predecessor's victory over them in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.
  • Gloved Fist of Doom: Kaiser Wilhelm wears a black leather glove on his left hand.
  • Government Procedural: The series focuses on the various governments after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
  • Gunboat Diplomacy: What Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, sees as the best way to curtail the Germans.
  • Historical Domain Character: Everyone important except the two fictional narrators, Alec and Jens.
  • In Medias Res: We join the series just after the death of the Archduke and his wife, well into the run-up to war (with hindsight).
  • Irony: If the more trigger-happy people (like the Kaiser and Churchill) had actually gotten their way, the Great War might have been little more than a skirmish in the continuously unstable Balkans. The peacemakers' attempts to slow everything down instead gave the Great Powers more time for the Issue Drift to set in.
  • Issue Drift: The murder of Franz Ferdinand very quickly gives way to the major player's various real agendas.
  • It Began with a Twist of Fate: The Archduke's car stopping outside that particular cafe marks the beginning of events.
  • Kaiserreich: Scenes in Imperial Germany feature lots of Prussian military regalia, uniforms, facial hair and pickelhaubes.
  • Majored in Western Hypocrisy: Kaiser Wilhelm, who spent a lot of his younger life in Britain, comments on British hypocrisy over the bullying of small nations like Serbia.
  • The Man Behind the Man: The British are well aware that Germany is the controlling power behind the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As Eyre Crowe said, "Austrian policy is made in Berlin".
  • Might Makes Right: Germany's raison d'être: "Necessity knows no law."
  • Mirroring Factions: A recurring theme between the various groups of characters.
    • Despite the obvious cultural differences, both the British and German governments consist of the aloof, the war hungry and the outspokenly racist.
    • Britain's double standards in opposing an Austrian crack down on Serbia versus their role in the developing Irish crisis is explicitly highlighted.
  • Moving the Goalposts: Austria's continued pressure on Serbia despite her (totally unexpected) submission to Austria's ludicrous demands is seen as this by Britain.
  • Occupiers Out of Our Country: The background to the assassination of the Archduke.
  • Only Sane Man:
    • Sir Eyre Crowe, British diplomat and Grey's underling.
    • Lichnowsky on the German side, especially in comparison to the rash, paranoid and rather unsettling Kaiser.
  • Pen-Pushing President: How the slow, old and bureaucratic Franz-Joseph of Austria-Hungary is viewed by the Germans thanks to him taking a long time to get around to threatening Serbia.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Politically Incorrect Antagonist: The Kaiser has the historical figure's racism, especially in relation to the Slavs. The producers felt that they had to tone down the racist rhetoric for broadcast.
  • Pretext for War: The Germans turn the murder of Franz Ferdinand into an excuse for a wider European war by manipulating the Austrians into attacking Serbia.
  • The Proud Elite: Grey's Foreign Office sees itself this way, leaving it unaccountable and arrogant.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Churchill's opinion of the Kaiser.
  • Quintessential British Gentleman: Most of the British characters embody this trope, the exceptions being the working-class John Burns and Alec the clerk, who's Scottish.
  • Royal Brat: Wilhelm is one of these in the body of a 55 year old man.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something:
    • Kaiser Wilhelm takes a direct role in leading his government.
    • Russia and Austria also have their royals being the leaders of government. The brief appearance of king George of Britain shows that, while he may have no role in the day-to-day running of his country, he is well-informed about the situation and willing to do whatever he can.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: When it becomes clear that Britain will fulfil its obligations to Belgium, John Burns resigns from the cabinet.
  • Smug Snake: Most characters (even the sympathetic ones) tend to overestimate their ability to foresee and guide events.
  • Time Title:
    • The series covers the weeks between the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 18 June 1914 to the British declaration of war on Germany on 4 August that year.
    • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: The three episodes are:
      • One Month in Summer (6 March 2014)
      • One Week in July (7 March 2014)
      • One Long Weekend (8 March 2014)
  • Truth in Television: The series is based on the personal accounts of those around to witness events in London and Berlin.
  • Undying Loyalty: Bethmann-Hollweg, the German Chancellor, is known for his obedience and loyalty to the Kaiser.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Pretty much every single decision that gets made in the series ends up bringing World War One closer, so to some extent most of the cast can be seen as this, though Princep the assassin is probably the most obvious example.
  • Vestigial Empire: Austria has been ruled by the Habsburgs for centuries, and is now little more than Germany's yes-man. Unfortunately, their attitude remains extremely imperial.
  • Villain Has a Point: Completely averted with Moltke. He makes multiple prophecies about what's going to happen if they do what he says they should do (e.g. Russia won't lift a finger to help Serbia, France will decline to honour its treaty with Russia, etc.) He is always wrong.
  • Wild Card: Austria seems to alternate between doing nothing and doing something totally unexpected. The British foreign office apparently considers the Tsar to be this as well.
  • Young Future Famous People: Although he would still be famous in-universe, the series depicts Winston Churchill as a younger, slimmer, not-quite-as-bald First Lord of the Admiralty and a long way away from becoming Prime Minister.

Kaiser: Why?! Do the trains not have brakes!?