After the flood WWI Films

WWI Films

“How can we give the general public a starting point in a complex subject?”


BBC History

The Problem

Inform a popular audience about the origins and facts of the First World War

Our Solution

Four tightly scripted films tackle the overview down to trenches-view using archive and graphics


The films have since got many thousands of views on

“How can we give the general public a starting point in a complex subject?”

We made four videos for the BBC’s 100th Anniversary of the outbreak of WWI, done in the Explainer format that we developed for BBC Knowledge and Learning — videos that take complex ideas and communicate them to a general audience. 

Editorially, these films work from the macro view of the war with Overview, focussing in on The Origins and then a deeper view to The Trenches, with The Somme as the most granular view. It was interesting to work at different paces and densities of information. The Overview makes the most of every second whereas The Somme is respectfully paced.

WWI Overview

This film weaves together the key events and conclusions of the war. We had to edit heavily – both events and detail to create a coherent story.

The Origins of WWI

The origins of WW1 are a famously complex network of linkages, actions, and effects. Key to this film was presenting the actors, motivations, and eventual conditions that sent them to war.

The Trenches

The Trenches was centred on the lives of the men at the Front and different parts of the theatre. It was important to combine the objective, diagrammatic architectural plans of the trench system with photos and film that humanised the men living and dying there.

The Somme

This and The Trenches operate at a more micro level than the macro of Overview and Origins. The Somme is a solid telling of the events of a very bloody battle, but editorially we challenged the ‘total failure’ aspect alongside the facts and figures.

The making of ...

These videos depended more heavily on footage and photography than previous films. We spent a couple of months researching at the archives of the Imperial War Museum to source original and compelling footage. We uncovered some fairly strong pictures that haven’t been in the public eye. Editorially, we felt that these would be interesting and robust, but given the BBC Producer Guidelines on depictions of dead people, we had to consider that fairly young children would be watching these videos. 


There is a fair amount of locative explanation here and we wanted the maps to aid the complex explanation of the interwoven sides, treaties and conditions of the outbreak of the war. We avoided using thematic maps with lots of ‘dead soldier’ numbers overlaid. We felt that the whole package communicated the sacrifice and icons of dead solders or sized-bubbles would be glib.

Our map of Europe needed basic colour style guides as well as a flexibility that would allow both macro-strategic and location-based data on top.

We worked on ‘pull-out’ and ‘zoom’ detail styles. WWI is a story of micro moments with macro effects and to be zooming in and out and around too much would be distracting. We needed to be able to point out detail while maintaining the larger global flow of the narrative.

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