David Attenborough is striking the right balance with new series

David Attenborough’s new series will show some of the wonders of the animal world, albeit with a faint alarm bell ringing in the background, writes Georgia Humphreys

DAVID Attenborough thought the producers of new wildlife series Dynasties were mad when he first heard their idea.

The plan for each episode was to spend time on one particular animal at a fork in the road and with a life about to change fundamentally depending on which direction it took.

Picking the families for these in-depth stories — which crews spent hundreds of days in a single location filming — was a huge risk.

“You can’t tell whether anything’s going to happen and you’ve got to be there and available if something does and, at the end of it, nothing may have happened,” says 92-year-old Attenborough, who was born in west London.

“What are you going to do then? It’s a huge financial investment.”

However, the decision paid off, as the much-loved narrator adds gently: “Extraordinary, interesting things did happen in all five that they chose.”

First off, there’s a chimpanzee leader battling for his position and his life on the edge of the Sahara, while in the second episode thousands of emperor penguins in Antarctica gather to face the coldest and cruellest winter on earth.

In the African savannah, we meet a powerful lioness, abandoned by her male protectors.

Then, on the floodplains of Zimbabwe, the focus is on a feud between a mother and daughter painted wolf.

Last but not least, we see a tigress attempting to raise her family in the jungles of India, under ever-growing pressure from her rivals and humanity.

Dynasties follows on from the success of series such as 2016’s Planet Earth II, which drew record-breaking viewing figures for a nature show, and Blue Planet II.

The latter show was particularly memorable for highlighting the environmental catastrophe taking place in our oceans.

Around 8.5 billion plastic straws are thrown away each year, contributing to the more than 150 million tonnes of plastic in the oceans.

“When you talk to the people who were working on that, they were all absolutely agonised by the amount of plastic, just everywhere,” says Attenborough.

Following on from the response to Blue Planet II, it has been announced plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds could be banned from sale in England.

Asked if the aim of Dynasties is to have a similar impact on government policy, Attenborough reasons: “We all have responsibilities as citizens but our primary job is to make a series of programmes which are gripping and truthful and speak about something quite important, and to tell it in its round fullness.

“These aren’t ecological programmes, they’re not proselytising programmes, they’re not alarmist programmes. What they are, which I admire these guys [the producers] for, is a new form of wildlife film-making.”

While environmental issues aren’t the focus of Dynasties, Attenborough suggests the demise of our world and what we can do about it is “always there these days”.

“Whether it’s population or whether it’s the climate or whether it’s the acidity of the sea, there is always that facet of the crystal that you can take,” adds the father-of-two, whose wife Elizabeth died of a brain haemorrhage in 1997.

And we do have a problem as to, do we actually, every time the image comes up, say ‘but remember they’re in danger’. How often do you say this without it becoming a real turn off? It would be irresponsible to ignore it but equally we have a responsibility of making programmes which look at all the rest of the aspects.

With what feels like a constant news stream about the turbulent political climate we currently find ourselves living through, Attenborough believes we need shows like Dynasties.

“I think all of us think that, faced with what we are facing, with Brexit and on the other side of the Atlantic, every time you turn on the television set you get it,” he says. “I certainly watch the news all the time and to get a programme which is about something which is more fundamental and more elemental, and also absolutely true, is a great... I wouldn’t say it’s an escape, because it’s reality, but it’s a great change and it’s a great relief.

“The fact that even it [Dynasties] has overtones and implications into our own lives and our own decisions is as it should be but it’s as far as you can get away from the political landscape, which otherwise dominates your thoughts.”

Dynasties starts on BBC One on Sunday

More in this Section

Sound out with Mr Scruff

Pokemon remade for modern age

Choosing that perfect outfit for a winter wedding win

Viola’s movie ‘at the right time, in the right zeitgeist’

Breaking Stories

World Diabetes Day: Could you name the 7 subtle signs of the illness?

Underground art, gold mosques and soothing sewing lessons – Uzbekistan is full of surprises

How to put a twist on classic dishes – according to two MasterChef winners

How to make Ping Coombes’ no-cook rainbow pad Thai

More From The Irish Examiner