When it comes to nature documentaries, it tends to be the individual stories that we remember best. It happened again and again in Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II — an event in the life of one specific creature, combined with the sweetly soothing sound of David Attenborough’s narration, took the internet by storm.
Well, it looks like there’s going to be more where that came from. In the latest BBC David Attenborough documentary series Dynasties, there will be an even greater focus placed on individual stories.
“We for many years have worked on those types of programmes, those sequence-led shows, and the frustration is that you spend a month, three weeks with a creature and you see an amazing insight into a very short window in their lives,” Executive Producer Mike Gunton said at a recent event in London to mark the show’s launch.
“And the frustration is you then have to leave them and you know that there’s so much more of their story that’s begging to be told.”
So how is Dynasties different?
Unlike much of Attenborough’s previous work, an episode of Dynasties doesn’t cut between different creatures. Instead, each hour-long installment focusses on a specific family within a specific species.
Lions, emperor penguins, chimpanzees, tigers, and hyenas are the creatures that will be covered, and an incredible amount of work and time has gone into telling each of their stories.
To make episode one, which we saw at a screening last week, a film crew spent two years following the same group of chimpanzees across Senegal. They walked a total of 2,500km to make the hour-long episode, which tells the story of an alpha male chimp’s desperate struggle to maintain control of his group.
“We had the opportunity to spend this long time with them, to get to know them,” said the episode’s director and producer Rosie Thomas. “And every single one of those chimps in that group had a different personality, and different character, and we got to know those — and by being able to get to know those we were able to read them a lot better, and therefore able to bring each story because we could see how those relationships were forming and changing.”
Why’s it worth watching?
“Chimpanzees” felt more like an episode of Game of Thrones than a nature documentary. It starts with a brooding, Ned Stark-esque close-up of the alpha-male chimp David sitting on his forest throne, before launching into a political tug-of-war bloodthirsty enough to make George RR Martin wince.
It has all the elements that made the likes of Planet Earth II great — the stunning cinematography; the incredible, close-up detail. But it’s far more narrative-based than past shows. The animals end up feeling less like creatures being observed through a lens, and more like characters in a film.
Dynasties begins on BBC One on Sunday 11th Nov. at 8.30pm.