To Serve Them All My Days
DVD | Box Set
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After barely surviving the trenches of World War I, an embittered young soldier takes a teaching post at Bamfylde, an elite boarding school in the uplands of West Devon. It is an unlikely job for a Welsh miner’s son without a degree, but David Powlett-Jones (John Duttine) proves to be a rare schoolmaster, as passionate about learning as he is about teaching. Through two tumultuous decades, Powlett-Jones inspires his students with his courage and idealism, qualities that help prepare him to send another generation of young men off to fight yet another war. A beloved PBS Masterpiece Theatre classic adapted by Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice, Bridget Jones’s Diary) from the novel by R. F. Delderfield.
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The life of an English schoolmaster may sound like dry stuff, but To Serve Them All My Days finds engrossing drama and dry wit in the most ordinary of circumstances. David Powlett-Jones (John Duttine), a young Welshman, returns from the trenches of World War I disillusioned and suffering from shellshock. Accepted as a teacher at an elite boy's boarding school called Bamfylde, Powlett-Jones fears he won't last--but the faith of the headmaster who hired him (Frank Middlemass) proves well-founded. Powlett-Jones immediately flies in the face of convention, fighting with a pompous science teacher (Neil Stacy), speaking out in favor of socialist reforms, and finding a mixture of discipline and empathy with the boys he teaches. Over the course of his 20-year rise through the ranks of Bamfylde, he finds and loses love with several women (Belinda Lang, Kim Braden, and Susan Jameson); one of the greatest strengths of To Serve Them All My Days is how fully realized these women are, each strikingly individual and self-directed.
The writing and acting are impeccable, always cutting to the most engaging aspect of every scene, yet grounding every conflict in a rich understanding of character and circumstance. Even the minor characters are made vivid and distinct, and the realities of life--politics, sex, mortality--are handled frankly and honestly. In fact, To Serve Them All My Days demonstrates the best aspects of a miniseries, taking the scope of 13 episodes to map in detail a human life, with all its victories and disasters. Truly a pleasure to watch; of particular note is Alan MacNaughtan as a sardonic fellow teacher, whose ironic observations and close friendship with Powlett-Jones give the series a good dose of both humor and compassion. Based on the classic novel by R.F. Delderfield. --Bret Fetzer
- R.F. Delderfield biography
- Photo gallery
- Background information, including lyrics to Bamfylde school song
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I'm surprised this series isn't more of a household name, the way Upstairs, Downstairs is. I don't know how I missed this in the 1980s. I only learned of it recently when Netflix suggested I might like it based on my viewing preferences, and it was right. It was so good that I had to buy the series, as the whole family enjoyed it and will want to watch it again - and I only buy DVDs of our favourites.
The concluding episodes left me blubbering over what it means to live a "life worth living"--a theme raised at the beginning of each episode as they all commence with the singing of the Bamfylde school song, "Look Ahead to A Life Worth Living." The series' over riding question for me? What is the cost of a life worth living?
This is a series to become absorbed in as it runs to almost 13 hours in all. The story unfolds gradually as the years pass and the banter between the old school teachers and their younger colleagues is witty and memorable.
Television rarely provides viewing of this quality.
If I could turn back the clock I would re-invent the English classroom where language and poetry are honored and students can recite those passages that will guide them through life. Beautifully told. Beutifully acted. Superb televsion.