Brave Little Belgium (DVD) – Documentary Review
Follow Genre: Documentary
Distributor: TDM
Episodes: 4
Duration: 200 minutes

Brave Little Belgium (DVD) – Documentary Review

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Good: Very clear, Captivating, Modern, Innovative presentation
Bad: Fast pace, Only Dutch and English subtitles
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Rating: 9.0/10 (1 vote cast)

When people speak about Belgium, a little confusing nation in the middle of Europe, the conversation is often about chocolate, fries, waffles and beer. However, during one of the most intense eras of mankind on both political and martial levels, Brave Little Belgium survived and stood strong throughout the war. Indeed, the first world war has shaped our little country and even the rest of the world. In this 4 episode series, Dr. Sophie De Schaepdrijver, an established authority on the history of Belgium during the Great War, guides the viewer through all aspects of war, ranging from civilian, military all the way to technical and medical advances.

Brave Little Belgium TITLE

During the series, historian Sophie De Schaepdrijver accompanies the viewer from the very earliest traces of war through the bitter end in 1918. She manages to explain events very thorough and clear, visiting all important locations. Several local historians also share their opinion on the incredibly complex topic of the Great War. However, “Great Little Belgium” may carry a misleading title. The borders are actually crossed as London, Paris, Vienna and Berlin all are also discussed.

What is often overseen is what life was like before the war. This documentary manages to briefly explain the tensions that were rising prior to the fatal visit in Sarajevo by Fransz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie of Austria in 1914. The rulers of the Hapsburgian empire were assassinated by Serbian resistance fighters. If there ever was a single moment in human history that had such a huge influence, it would have been this. It was the spark that set Europe ablaze; Austria, supported by Germany retaliated by attacking Serbia. Russia, France and Great Britain formed a coalition to defend peace in Serbia. Clearly, a World War was eminent.

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The viewer travels to the modern day locations that played key roles in the attempts of Belgium to slow down the German empire from advancing and gaining territory. For example, a local historian in Visé tells the tale of how their peaceful, idyllic town is transformed into a wasteland. Iconical as it is, the countryside municipality of martyrs. Indeed, Belgium called upon the international rights and decided to assume neutrality and defend its borders as such, denying Germany free passage. In all foreign news, the bravery of Belgium was readily acknowledged. Brave Little Belgium surprisingly kept the front up through the entire war, but at a horrific cost. The German forces were very violent and executed no less than 5500 civilians, with an even larger proportion of properties being destroyed. Houses, shops, factories all fall prey to the destructive intentions of the invaders…Brave Little Belgium 3

The narration for Brave Little Belgium is unique. It is on one side a very clear lecture by a professional (Dr. Sophie De Schaepdrijver). She is a lecturer affiliated with the Pennsylvania State University and teaches Modern European History. It is no surprise that she became the face of the series, as she is also the author of several books on the Great War that are internationally renowned.  Her narrating is alternated by (edited) images and original or remastered footage of the war and the contemporary life, commented by Vic De Wachter. Aside from the use of the historical locations and the authentic audiovisual material, the producer also opted to use CGI-techniques to morph the current landscapes into the war-struck territory it was 100 years ago. Contrary to the boring maps and atlases one finds in the more traditional classrooms, the locations are presented very clear and dynamically. Important events and the atmosphere surrounding it are invoked by short, but powerful details. The Great War and moreover the emotions that it spawned are brought back to the present this way.

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The audio was chosen to fit present-day standards, rather than the classical music that is overused for these types of historical projects. For example, the story is guided by soundtracks by two big names in the movie industry : James Newton Howard (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, The Hunger Games) and Alan Silvestri (Forrest Gump, Back to the Future, Romancing the Stone).  This documentary stands out from its competitors on the first World War by using state-of-the-art techniques to give the viewer a complete overview of the proceedings and events that have defined mankind. This was to be expected, as this was the first war where photo’s and film were available. However, only does the CGI and remastered images, the expert narration and the interviews with locals in their native languages bring novel aspects, but also the recordings made by drones, bring innovation and refreshment of the topic to the screen, which is very welcome considering the upcoming memorials.


Brave Little Belgium shows the developments leading to and spanning the entire Great War in a refreshing, innovative way. By having a leading authority in the shape of Dr. Sophie De Schaepdrijver narrate, the viewer will have more chance to feel educated than is the case in other typical reports on war. The series also handles topics that have not changed in 100 years. On the contrary, some topics have never been this actual. As a consequence of  the war, over 2 million Belgian refuses fled to the Netherlands, England and France. Explicitly striking are the sections on chemical warfare and the 9 million souls that were lost during the horrors of war. Brave Little Belgium should become course material for history classes throughout the world, presenting how a small nation defied the numbers and stood strong against injustice, leaving scars on every country involved in the fighting. Due to the high quality and expertise, it is definitely a must for enthousiasts of European history.

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Brave Little Belgium (DVD) - Documentary Review, 9.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating

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