To Serve Them All My Days (review)

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When David Powlett-Jones returned from the Great War, a teaching position at posh Bamfylde, a boys’ boarding school, seemed an unlikely choice for a shell-shocked veteran. But as fans of this adored miniseries know, he couldn’t have made a better choice. Finally on DVD and video for the first time since its original airing on the BBC and PBS’s Masterpiece Theater, this 1980 production remains a triumph of long-form television. Here, in 13 parts, Powlett-Jones, played by the wonderfully sensitive John Duttine, grows from an uncertain but passionate young teacher, one who instinctively connects with his students, into Bamfylde’s much loved headmaster. Along the way, beautifully dramatized by Andrew Davies, Powlett-Jones deals with marriage (more than one), fatherhood, and issues of class — his roots are in a humble Welsh mining town — among the peculiar, insular society of an elite all-male institution. Occasional brief video and audio glitches, unfixable artifacts of old film, remind us how long we’ve been waiting for this to arrive for home viewing. Deliberately paced and dramatically involving, this is not only a exquisite portrait of one compelling character, but an evocative depiction of Britain between the wars.

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