Relief of Belsen, The (Channel 2007, Iain Glen, Tobias Menzies)

A heart breaking subject tackled with care and skill and a quality cast including Iain Glen, Corin and Jemma Redgrave (the first time they’ve starred together), Tobias Menzies, Nigel Lindsay and Paul Hilton star in this feature-length drama which reveals the extraordinary story of one of the most heroic medical relief operations in European history. Using scripted drama, testimony and extensive news footage from the ‘horror camp’, The Relief of Belsen depicts the desperate struggle of the British-led medical team to bring the camp’s starving inmates back from the brink of death.

In April 1945, a British ambulance unit was diverted from frontline battle to handle a crisis behind enemy lines. An outbreak of typhus in a nearby prison camp had prompted a local truce. That camp was Bergen-Belsen. The arriving British thought it would be a straightforward matter but they were utterly unprepared for the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe they faced. 60,000 prisoners living in squalor; deprived of food, clothing and medical supplies for so long that whatever the British tried to do, the shocking daily death-toll continued to spiral ever-upwards.

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For four weeks, a team of doctors, nurses and civilian volunteers, without a common language, worked to find a way to save the starving and dying of Belsen. All this while the war was still raging throughout Europe.

The archive footage of the skeletal bodies of Belsen is now the most enduring image of the Holocaust’s extreme horrors. By interweaving this archive with the unfolding story of individuals, these dreadful images are given a new context.

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The Relief of Belsen is the inspiring story of a groundbreaking and extreme medical relief operation, and it is echoed in every major medical rescue operation since 1945- from earthquakes in Iran and Pakistan, to the Asian Tsunami and floods in New Orleans. It is the enduring story of medical ingenuity against the odds and the power of simple gestures of humanity.

production details
UK | Channel 4 | 1×100 minutes | 2007

Director: Justin Hardy
Script: Justin Hardy, Peter Guinness,

Katrine Bach as Lotti Burns
Simon Day as Major Stadler
Oliver Ford Davies as Martin Lipscomb
Iain Glen as James Johnston
Corin Redgrave as Glyn Hughes
Jemma Redgrave as Jean McFarlane
Tobias Menzies as Derrick Sington

Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.