When the cruelty of war shook the television

A scene from ‘Blood Brothers’. / RC

‘Blood brothers’. Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks were the producers of one of the best series that premiered twenty years ago

Daniel Roldan

The story of the Niland brothers, on which “Saving Private Ryan” is based, was not enough for Steven Spielberg. After the adventures of Indiana Jones – where he fought against the Nazis – and directing ‘1941’, ‘The Empire of the Sun’ and ‘Schindler’s List’, the Cincinnati director wanted to continue exploring World War II. He found Tom Hanks as a traveling companion and together they decided that they wanted to continue working together. But neither one as director nor the other as director. They bet on playing it as executive producers.

They wanted to make a product that lived up to the movie they had shot together, with that same tone and that human charge from the cruellest side of the war. They found the perfect wickers in ‘Blood Brothers’, a book by Stephen E. Ambrose about a company of soldiers who were in every battle from the Normandy landings to the arrival at the Eagle’s Nest – a retirement home for Hitler in the Bavarian Alps-. The television adaptation premiered on September 9, two days before 9/11. Twenty years ago.

The American historian had already worked with Spielberg as an adviser on “Saving Private Ryan”, whose protagonists are members of the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army. In ‘Blood Brothers’, Spielberg and Hanks went further. They adapted Ambrose’s book to tell the lives of the members of Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the famous 101st Division, soldiers who also gave their testimonies to the scriptwriters. Each of the ten chapters opens with the statements of one of them.

The ten episodes cost about 125 million dollars, the most expensive series so far

The miniseries was the most expensive in history so far. ‘Blood Brothers’ cost HBO about 125 million dollars (currently just over 106 million euros) plus another 15 million to promote the series. Figures that were only surpassed by ‘The Pacific’ or ‘Game of Thrones’. All of them produced by the same TV. “I’m not saying they were unfazed (by the proposal). But HBO had a lot of money, “Hanks told ‘The New York Times’ when the series was released.

The recreation of the different war scenes was what took a large part of the economic cake. Spielberg and the rest of the producers bet on the same place where they had filmed ‘Saving Private Ryan’: the old facilities of British Aerospace in Hatfield (England). The size of the set was gigantic. “Five times bigger than the one in the movie,” explains the actor and producer in the documentary ‘The Making of Band of Brothers’. He also directed one of the episodes (‘Crossroads’) and made a cameo as a British officer in another.

Actors Damian Lewis and David Schwimmer. /


The hangars that Hatfield had served as a warehouse for the sets, costumes, weapons and any other type of utensil.

Some of the production figures demonstrate the (economic) freedom the team had. More than ten thousand extras worked in the production; Some 1,200 civilian suits and 2,000 uniforms of the US and German armies were used. Costume manager Joe Hobbs contacted veterans to make sure the elements were correct for each scene. Something similar did the weapons expert Simon Atherton to ensure that all the equipment was adequate in the different phases of the contest. Some 700 guns were actually used in WWII.


In those almost 17 hectares of study, up to eleven different locations were created through which the adventures of the Easy Company in Europe passed. Hatfield was Carentan (France), the Belgian town of Bastogne – real and fake trees made with fiberglass, latex, hemp and foam were used – or it also became Eindhoven.

The series elevated Damien Lewis as a star, although neither he nor the rest of the cast was nominated for the Emmys. Among others, the actors of ‘Los Sopranos’ triumphed. The series took six and served for some actors to have their first major roles. Simon Pegg, Michael Fassbender, Tom Hardy, Colin Hanks, James McAvoy, Dominic Cooper or Jimmy Fallon had their more or less relevant roles – some did not go beyond a single chapter. The success of ‘Blood Brothers’ served the Spielberg-Hanks couple to make ‘The Pacific’ nine years later. The third leg of the trilogy is ‘Masters of the Air’, without a release date and with a new home, Apple TV +.


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When the cruelty of war shook the television

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