Even though I actually watched it more than a month ago, I'm gonna have to tell you about the first entry in my Netflix mania viewing. It's so odd. I hadn't thought of this miniseries in forever. Actually, to be honest, I had never actually seen this one. The Winds of War originally aired wen i was seven and since it was something like 18 hours long and about the lead-up to America's entrance in WWII, I somehow missed it. I did, however, watch every last minute of War and Remembrance, which was based on the second Herman Wouk novel about the Jastrow and Henry families and which spanned Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima (and I've just rewatched all THIRTY hours of that one, so we'll get to it, too). I had, though, read the book. And that, combined with the absolute reverence in which I held the miniseries of War and Remembrance, led me to expect much, maybe too much, of the first miniseries.
I'm going to start by saying that the whole thing is exquisitely and lavishly made, top to bottom. Since this was made smack dab in between Roots and North and South and one year before The Thorn Birds, I think that it's safe to say that it epitomizes the heyday of the epic, Event miniseries. And I do mean Event with the capital letter. It follows two families--the Henrys, an American naval family, and the Jastrows, a Jewish family, with members scattered from Poland to the USA--from the months leading up to the German invasion of Poland, through the first two years of WWII and then concluding in the week after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In many ways, The Winds of War (and its sequel) are very different from most of the other Event minis. For example, The Thorn Birds exists on the fringes of world history, so that although the characters sometimes mention things happening in the world at large--such as secondary characters going to fight in WWII--it's never really part of the action. In the North and South minis, the historical aspects of the story--the Mexican War and the Civil War, in particular--are much more central to the plot, but the battles and speeches are all seen from the viewpoint and perspective and through the involvement of one of the characters. The Winds of War is different. While HUGE parts of the story focus on the interpersonal relationships of the characters and also on their fictional involvement with non-fictional events, there are also portions of the story where the history itself BECOMES the story. It's a very interesting narrative tool, actually, and makes even the fictional parts seem much more tangible.
So, as I said before, I actually watched the second miniseries first, and I think that most of my "problems" with this stemmed from that. In War and Remembrance, the most interesting plotline, by far, at least in my (at the time) thirteen-year-old eyes, was that which followed Natalie Jastrow Henry, an American, married to an American naval officer and trapped in Europe at the time the United States enters the war. AND SHE'S JEWISH, which meant OHMYGODTHEDRAMA. In any event, Natalie is played in the second series, by Jane Seymour. Who is absolutely perfect. In the original, she is played by Ali MacGraw. Who is way too old and also...can't act. There, I said it. I really thought she was kind of awful. The other half of the romance, Byron, the Henry son who becomes a reluctant naval officer, was played in W&R by Hart Bochner, who was really good and terribly handsome. In this, Byron is played by Jan-Michael Vincent. Who really seemed like an odd choice to me. Oh, the acting was fine, but he's not a THING like the Byron described in the book. And there was also the small matter of me singing the Airwolf theme song in my head every time he was on screen, which I realize is a personal problem, but a distracting one, nonetheless.
The other main character (and actually MOST of the secondary characters where played by different actors in the second series) who was played by a different actor is Aaron Jastrow, Natalie's uncle and an American ex-pat author who's the reason she's in Europe to begin with. In this it's the incomparable John Houseman, who because of health reasons was replaced by the incomparable Sir John Gielgud in the second. So that's pretty much even.
Frankly, apart from my problems with Ali MacGraw (and I don't mean this harshly, but I don't think she's good in ANYTHING and include in that assessment Love Story), this is probably the best-acted, across the board, of any of the big miniseries. At the least it's tied with Roots. The three main actors who remained the same in the second series--Robert Mitchum, Polly Bergen and Victoria Tennant--are predictably excellent. Mitchum, especially, gives a tour de force performance as Victor Henry, the family patriarch.
In short, The Winds of War has held up AMAZINGLY well. I'm a WWII junkie, so I'm predisposed to like it, even without the added bump of having seen and adored the sequel. I can't recommend it enough. It's not available on Netflix Instant Queue, so you have to actually get the DVDs, but it's well worth it and one of the best miniseries ever made. I still prefer the sequel (also available and also not on Instant Queue) and I think if the entire thing is too daunting, you could skip this and still easily follow War and Remembrance, but really, seeing the whole picture is much more compelling. This one's a solid A-.