37 Days (2014)



Director:     Justin Hardy.

Starring:     Ian McDiarmid ( Edward Grey), Nicholas Farrell (Eyre Crowe), Tim Pigott-Smith (Herbert Henry Asquith), Sinťad Cusack (Margot Asquith), Bill Paterson (Lord Morley), Kenneth Cranham (John Burns), Ludger Pistor ( Bethmann-Hollweg), Rainer Sellien ( Kaiser Wilhelm II), Bernhard SchŁtz (Helmuth Moltke), Mark Lewis Jones (David Lloyd George), Nicholas Asbury (Winston Churchill), Urs Remond (Prince Lichnowsky), James McArdle (Alec), Andrť Kaczmarczyk (Jens), Holger Kunkel (Falkenhayn), Stephan Szasz ( Jagow), Kate Ambler (Muriel), Roman Beguns (Russian), FranÁois-Eric Gendron (Paul Cambon), Niall Cusack ( Benckendorff), George Lenz (Mensdorff), Chris Kelly (Gavrilo Princip), Oliver Ford Davies (Cunliffe), Patrick Fitzsymons (King George V), Ian Beattie (Tsar Nicholas II), Simon Coury (Franz Ferdinand), Rainer Reiners (Von Below), Gordon Fulton (Sukhomlinov), Mary Moulds (Sophie Chotek), Christopher Leveaux (Lieutenant Feldmann).

 BBC TV mini-series about the lead-up to WWI


Spoiler Warning: 

Episode 1. One Month in Summer.


June 28, 1914. Europe was enjoying a prosperous peace. 37 days later the nations were at war. In that time only a handful of people knew what was happening.

A fellow named Alec who works in the Foreign Office in London gets promoted to the Balkans section. The Foreign Office receives 6,000 telegrams a day. The fellow asks Muriel to send out some telegrams.

Then came a particular telegram from Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. Alec says: "Well, I should be honest with you, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, murdered in Sarajevo. Interesting, for sure, over breakfast, but forgotten by tea-time. Or so I thought. As did everyone else I spoke to."

He hands the telegram to his boss, Sir Eyre Crowe, the Assistant Undersecretary at the Foreign Office. Crowe thought something might go wrong on that day. The day was a holy day. "What a time for an Austrian archduke to go to Sarajevo." Alec responds: "It is rash, sir." Then Crowe says that the telegram is important, but itís not important enough to disturb the Foreign Secretary right now.

Sir Edward Grey is the Liberal Foreign Secretary. Crowe tells the man about the assassination of the Austrian archduke. Neither man, however, ever thinks that the incident would lead to the first world war in the history of the earth.

Number 10 Downing Street. There is talk about the assassination at the dinner table with the Prime Minister Tory Stanley Baldwin. Grey is at the dinner and so is Winston Churchill. Stanleyís wife Margot comments that Crowe may want to use this incident to get after Germany. Stanley says that Sir Grey does not want to talk politics at the dinner tables. He wants to relax. Margot, however, wonít let the topic go. She asks Grey another question about Serbia. At the end of the evening Margot asks Grey if there is anything to worry about over Serbia? Grey says no.

When Grey returns home, Crowe is already waiting for him there. He tells Grey that the assassin was a Serb, like he thought. His name is Gavrilo Princip and heís an anarchist and a Bosnian Serb. Principo wanted Bosnia as part of Serbia and to accomplish that goal he wanted to throw the Austrian overlords out of the Balkans.

Princip tried to assassinate the archduke as he went by in his fancy car. He then retired to a coffee house. When the archduke comes back from his meeting, the driver gets lost and turns down the wrong street and stops right in front of the coffee house. Princip rushes out of the coffee house and fires four bullets at the archduke and his wife, killing both of them.

32 Days to War. For Germany. Austria was their ally and Franz Ferdinand was their friend. A young member of the Chancellery of the German Reich says that for his colleagues and himself: ". . . it was as if we ourselves had been shot." The young fellow says that heís a Liberal, which is not popular in Germany where the Chancellery is a Prussian Institution, not a German one.

The leader of the Chancellery is the Imperial Chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg. The man had spent a lifetime in the Prussian civil service. He believes in obedience and was always obedient to Kaiser Wilhelm II, the eldest grandson of Queen Victoria.

The Kaiser says that assassination of a king is the worst crime ever. And he says he hates the Serbs. And the bullets used display markings of the Royal Serbian arsenal. The Kaiser says it was the Serbian government who fired the death weapon.

The Kaiser also believes that Austria is too weak to act correctly in this situation. So, in a sense, itís time to teach Serbia a lesson for the Austrians. He also says Germany will demand that Austria take military action against the Serbs and do it immediately. The Kaiser is much more hawkish than any of the advisors in the room Wilhelm laughs and says theyíre all worried about what Russia will do. He tells the men to stop worrying about Russia.

The one country that the Kaiser is concerned about is Britain. His friend Max tells the Kaiser in private that the English may be upset if they see Germany as a bully picking on poor little Serbia. The Kaiser acknowledges the concern, but it doesnít change his mind.

30 Days to War. It is Germany that is demanding that the Austrians take military action in Serbia. The old Emperor in Vienna, Franz Joseph, however, worked at his own pace. There would not be immediate military incursion into Serbia.

Number 10 Downing Street. About 30,000 German rifles have been landed at Larne, County Antrim, Ireland in the past few months. Grey gets a telegram saying that the Sarajevo assassins were trained in Belgrade.

At a cricket match Grey talks to the Kaiserís friend Max. They talk about Serbia. The two men talk about a scenario where Austria would attack Serbia, Germany would back Austria, and Russia, France and Britain would oppose Austria and Germany.

Winston Churchill speaks with Crowe. He says that Grey has never been to Germany, Austria or Russia. Churchill thinks heís the only British politician who has met the Kaiser and he tells Crowe that the man has a child-like understanding of war. He knows nothing of actual warfare. And the only gesture that will work with the Kaiser is Britainís raised hand ready to strike him.

What Winston is getting at is that Crowe should tell Grey what Churchill cannot tell Grey because Churchill would be seen as a too ambitious politician.

28 Days to War. Carlsbad Bohemia. The Chief of the General Staff, General Moltke is still in Carlsbad. Moltke says heís staying in Carlsbad for awhile longer. The longer he waits, the more agitated the Russians will get. This will make the Russians look more warlike and the Germans a little less warlike.

20 Days to War. The Germans tells the Austrian ambassador in very firm tones: "This is Austriaís last chance. So, please explain to your Emperor, in your own words, that unless action is taken against Belgrade in the next week it will be too late. Too late forever."

Vienna. Bells ring. Three weeks after the assassination of the archduke Franz Joseph finally gets around to composing his ultimatum to Serbia. The Emperor, however, was in no hurry. Meanwhile, the Germans curse the Austrians for their stupor. And when the Germans finally get a copy of the ultimatum, it makes Austria seem totally unreasonable for they are demanding the total humiliation of Serbia. They blamed Serbia for the actions of an isolated group of young anarchists. The Austrian demands would mean the complete surrender of their sovereignty.

In England Grey says war is more likely to break out in Ireland than in Serbia. The Serbs and the Russians are in no shape to fight a war.

They gather the principal ambassadors together at the Foreign Office: Germanyís Prince Lichnowsky, Russian Count Benckendorff and Austrian Count Mensdorff. Theyíre all cousins. Grey and Crowe decide to speak to Austria first. Grey says that the Austrian ultimatum has been deliberately been designed to be rejected. And if Russia is drawn into the dispute, then British interests would be effected. And there's a lot of support for Serbia in the United Kingdom.

The Russian ambassador is next. He tells Grey that Russia is outraged by this affair. They canít let Serbia be put at the end of an Austrian chain. Grey warns the ambassador that in the United Kingdom nobody much cares about Serbia. He then asks that Russia not get locked in to any commitments to Serbia before Grey has a chance to mediate the affair.

Grey speaks with his friend the German ambassador while walking in the garden. He asks Lichnowsky if Germany encouraged Austria to be militant in the ultimatum? The ambassador says he canít answer that question and others. He only says that he thinks what probably Grey thinks about the ultimatum.

Crowe thinks that Britain should tell the Germans that they are prepared to a stand by the Serbians. But Grey is optimistic saying that their most important task is to get the nations involved in this matter to sit down and talk together. The diplomatic machine will be greased by Grey and others and the machine will operate as it did before to keep the peace.

Berlin. Moltke is of the opinion that the little Balkan war will not remain a little Balkan war. The problem with the Kaiser is that he only plans one move ahead. The man does not believe that Russia will back Serbia.

July 22. 13 days to War.



Episode 2. One Week in July.

Everyone returns to work. Grey says he's about to release a memo that Austria has gone mad. And Serbia has agreed to virtually every demand made by Austria. Crowe says that Austria just wants a war in the Balkans.

Grey talks to the Austrian ambassador but gets nowhere with him.

Churchill thinks that Austria and Germany are in cahoots with each other to start a war. Grey, however, doesnít believe it. He says itís just that Austria canít see beyond her quarrel with Serbia.

At the rate things are going, Grey thinks they have from four days to a week before Austria declares war on Serbia.

Grey tells the German ambassador about the idea of a conference where the parties talk together. Lichnowsky says that Germany will come and maybe Germany and Britain together can work something out. Grey is pleased. Crowe is not and he tells Grey that he doesnít think that Berlin listens to Lichnowsky at all.

Itís Crowe who is correct. The Germans reject Greyís offer to attend an international conference. They will have Austria say that attendance for them would be too humiliating. The Germans figure they can use Lichnowsky to get the British of the Germanís back for 48 hours or so at least. Furthermore, the news about Britainís plan for an international conference will not even be shown to the Kaiser [who wants war anyway].

8 Days to War. July 28. The Kaiser was on vacation and now that heís back heís very disappointed that Serbia has not been crushed by the Austrians. In fact, he says: "Itís completely disappointing!" He wanted a clean, quick war that would be over before the Russians even knew it had begun. And now the British have their navy on high alert.

Crowe and Grey learn that the Tsar has mobilized a section of the Russian army in the southern districts facing the Austrian Empire. Grey says they have just wrecked his peace conference. Crowe again says that Britain should tell the world that they will back the Russians. Grey doesnít like it because that would emboldened the Russians to threaten war with Austria.

Tsar Nicholas II was a bit erratic, whimsical and unpredictable, with no one ever knowing what the Tsar would say next. The Prime Minister and Grey speak to the Russian ambassador asking them to cool their actions, but they get no where with him. And the ambassador does mention that it would be a shame if Russia and Britain came to blows over India.

The Germans are shocked by the Russian mobilization. Moltke, however, was not shocked. He wants to get Russia to go to a general mobilization, then that would give Germany an excuse to go to total mobilization. So the plan is now to provoke the Russians even more.

Moltke speaks to the cabinet without the Kaiser. Russia has 4,000 machine guns, while Germany has 24,000. The reason that Russia lacks machine guns is that General Sulhomlinovís young wife adores Faberge eggs. Itís a matter of the Teutons versus the Slavs and now Germany has a chance to settle that question once and for all.

The Kaiser always seems to be a step behind events. Moltke is talking of a huge war with Russia, while the Kaiser is still talking about the Austrian war with Serbia.

The Kaiser finally reads the Serbian reply to the Austrian ultimatum. He starts ranting about how now thereís no real reason for war. The Serbs have agreed to all of Austriaís demands. Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg asks the Kaiser if there will be a change in policy. The Kaiser, highly agitated, tells Bethmann to get the Austrians into Serbia immediately.

Franz Josef of Austria signs a declaration of war. The narrator says: "What heís actually doing is signing his own death warrant and that of his dynasty."

The Germans are happy because they finally got their little war. That evening Austrian bombs fall on Belgrade.

Churchill is very frank with Grey. He says: "Do remember that affability is not a strategy, Edward. Nowís the time to put British power into the scales. No more pretending weíre just the umpire."

6 Days to War. Finally, Grey tells Lichnowsky that if the French are drawn into the war on the side of Russia, itís likely that Britain will also be drawn into the war. Later, Grey says that the ambassador will tell the Kaiser, but the ambassador just writes a telegram: "Britain in earnest. Negations must succeed.".

The message does have an impact on the Kaiser. Letters fly back and forth from the monarchs of Germany and Russia. No agreement is reached.

Russia goes to full mobilization. Moltke tells Austria to proceed to full mobilization. At about the same time, Bethmann sends a wire to Austria saying to open up hostilities with Russia would be a serious error.

5 Days to War. Grey tells the French ambassador that it will be difficult for Britain to go with France into war if the French continue aligning themselves with Russia. The ambassador tells Grey: "How easy it is to be complacent about Germany when you are protected by the Channel."

Moltke wants Germany to threaten France, even though France has not mobilized. He wants to invade France and then deal with the Russians. Bethmann doesnít want to invade France, but it seems Moltke is communicating on his own with France and England.

4 Days to War. Bethmann and Moltke have a confrontation in front of the Kaiser. Bethmann says Moltke wants a war on France. And that will bring in Britain on the side of France. The Kaiser supports Moltke.

Churchill asks for a full mobilization of the navy. Three cabinet ministers says they will resign if the navy is mobilized. They say Britain canít control what happens between Austria and Russia, so they must concentrate on France. Grey gets up and telephones the German ambassador. He tells the ambassador that he must say Germany will not attack France. Grey lies and says that France has been notified about this. So the ambassador says his government will react positively at this offer.

Grey breaks the news to the French ambassador and he goes ballistic saying that Britain is selling France down the river.

Germany mobilizes the army against Russia. France mobilizes.

23 minutes after the Kaiser signs the mobilization papers, the Grey peace plan as proposed to the German ambassador arrives. But itís a lie. It says both England and France will not fight Germany, if the Germans will not attack France. The Kaiser is ecstatic. Moltke is mad as hell and says forward troops are just about ready to enter Luxemburg. The Kaiser says to shift all the troops to the east. Now Moltke criticizes the Kaiser.

Ulfingen, Luxemburg. August 1st. German soldiers go into Luxemburg. Lt. Feldmann is in charge. No casualties were suffered that day. A telegram arrives for Feldmann telling him to come home.

3 Days to War.


Episode 3. One Long Weekend.

King Edward VII says to Grey that the German ambassador either misheard Grey or Grey misled the ambassador. The King will inform the Kaiser that thereís been a misunderstanding.

The Kaiser goes ballistic. He says itís all the fault of that deceitful cur Edward Grey. Now he yells to get him Moltke. He tells Moltke: "The English are liars. Now you can do as you will."

All Germany was braced for war.

In 1912 Britain and France agreed to a naval arrangement. The British would protect the French ports on the English Channel. The French would protect the British ports in the Mediterranean. This would mean that Britain would fight the German navy if it tried to attack the French ports on the English channel. Therefore, Britain would be at war with the Germans anyway.

The cabinet takes a vote and Britain will honor itís naval agreement with the French, which means Britain will be backing France in case of war with Germany.

The Germans have the Schlieffen Plan. That plan says that Germany must not fight on two fronts, east and west, at the same time. Moltke says he will throw 90% percent of Germanyís might at France and use 10% to hold the Russians in abeyance. When they knock out France, everything will be turned on Russia. Moltke says it will only take six weeks to conquer France. They will be going through Belgium. Moltke is going to create an incident that will justify Germanyís entry into Belgium.

Now the French ambassador kisses the cheeks of Edward Grey. And the ambassador asks for a British Expeditionary force to be placed in France. Just two division on the way to France would have a great morale building effect among the French people. He says Germany will declare war on France in the next 24 hours. Grey is reluctant to say yes.

Now Grey speaks with the German ambassador. He asks the ambassador what he would say if he (Grey) would say he has reasons to believe that someone in Germany is planning an attack on Belgium? The ambassador says thatís impossible because they have a treaty with that country. "To violate Belgium sovereignty would be madness:"

August 2. Belgian Government, Brussels. The German ambassador to Belgium says that French troops have entered Belgium and Germany wants the right to come into Belgium to repulse the French. They have five hours to respond.

Bank Holiday Monday. 48 Hours to War. Alec in the Foreign Office says thereís still a chance that the war may blow over.

The cabinet meets again. One minister says if war does begin, he sees a calamity happening that will last for years. He also says the war wonít have a winner and that will make the war to be fought in vain.

The Prime Minister says they have had four resignations from the cabinet so far. He asks David Lloyd George what is his opinion? Lloyd George says he will not support war. The rest of the cabinet decides to go to war.

The German ambassador says Germany will declare war on France this afternoon. Grey excuses himself saying he has to deliver a speech to the House of Commons. [He will explain the need for a war against Germany.]

Soon after Grey finishes his speech, Germany declares war on France.

Grey tells Alec: "You know, the lamps are going out all over Europe. Perhaps we will not see them lit in our lifetime."

Tuesday. August 4. 17 Hours to War. Vise, Belgium. Belgian troops await the Germans. They come and the war begins. The King of Belgium now signals all the guarantors of Belgium neutrality to come to their aide.

In a cabinet meeting David Lloyd George now decides to go to war against Germany.

The Prime Minister composes an ultimatum to German to get out of Belgium or it means war with Great Britain.

4 Hours to War. Alec has decided to join the Royal Field Artillery. Alec has a counterpart in Berlin in the Foreign Office. He too will be going off to fight in the war.

The war that some said would last 40 years, becomes a World War. By 1918, four empires were in ruins.

10 million died. Austria and Russia were the last to declare war against each other.



Good overview of the complicated political maneuvers among the involved nations to start or stop a World War.  But seen from the larger perspective, war was bound to come.  After all the Kaiser wanted a war as he was head of a warrior society and warrior culture.  Germany was more Prussian in influence than German.  The Prussian mind-set is to go to war.  The Kaiser had Austria bullied into trying to start a war with Serbia.  He put heavy pressure on Austria and was terribly upset when Austria took its time.  When one of the big players wants to go to war, there will be war.  The Kaiser was depending on it.  Meanwhile, Britain's Sir Edward Grey kept thinking that he could stop the war from coming.  He was pretty blind about what was really going on, especially in Germany.  Grey's second in command was much more clear-headed and saw what was going on, but he couldn't make Grey accept his views.  France was very worried about another war with Germany and their ambassador was completely frustrated with Grey, because he kept holding back on any British commitment to go to the aide of their ally.  Of course, in the end Grey has to realize that war is coming and Britain will have to fight along the side with France against Germany.  Idealism is great, but some men can be totally blindsided by it, such as Sir Edward Grey.  Grey only delayed the start of the war. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.




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