A 2014 miniseries from Australia and New Zealand is one of the best “based on true events” productions I have seen. It is a salute to the ANZAC Girls, from which it takes its title, the gallant women from Australia and New Zealand who acted as nurses in World War I. ANZAC is the acronym for Australian New Zealand Army Corps, while “girls” was acceptable back then.
It is told from the point of view of Sister Ross-King (Georgia Flood), who began by serving across the water from Gallipoli where so many young men were being killed and maimed by the Turks. In the fourth of the six 1-hour episodes, her team is sent to France, where they are even closer to the battlefront and risk their own lives to save those of their patients.
Note: I will use “nurse” instead of “Sister” in this report.
Although a disclaimer at the start of the series says some facts have been changed for dramatic purposes, everything here is absolutely believable There are the inevitable marriages in which bride and groom are soon parted by the war, the first attractions between nurse and soldier, the proposals of marriage to a nurse who refuses to believe her man is dead.
And there is the inevitable scene in which an officer, Sydney Cook (Todd Lasance), whose father is influential in the government gets him a leave and the wife refuses to leave her post just so she can be shown off to those back home. However, most of the male characters are shown in a positive light, such as Harry Moffitt (Dustin Clare) and Pat Dooley (Brandon McClelland).
The characters of the nurses are nicely differentiated: Grace Wilson (Caroline Craig), Elsie Cook (Laura Brent), Olive Haynes (Anna McGahan), and Hilda Steele (Antonia Prebble).
Some are strong as steel, others simply cannot stand the pressure but do their best. Ross-King becomes a problem to the others and to herself by obsessing over the fate of her man; but who can blame her for that? And if the doctors performing surgery are discussing the menu for that day’s meal, the actual doctors probably did the same. (Recall the surgery scenes in “M.A.S.H”?)
Of course, there are many gory close-ups of various wounds and gushing blood. But those who created this series had no intention (it would seem) to show what a glorious thing war is supposed to be. And the viewer cannot miss the irony of the speeches in the script proclaiming the peaceful world that would result from the “War to End All Wars.”
The photos of the actual nurses at the end are charming; and the bonus interviews with several of the actresses are interesting. The subtitles are most welcome.