The uniforms certainly didn't help when it came to telling the many stars apart on Anzac Girls, a good-looking new World War I television series that launched on Prime last night.

I spotted our Antonia Prebble, of course, playing the Kiwi nurse in this six-part drama, which has been built from the diaries and letters of a brave band of sisters who went to war with the Australian Army Nursing Service on the Western Front and at Gallipoli.

Going with the nurses is a great angle to take on that long-ago war and, of course, nurses have always had a certain popular zing in film and television, from Carry on Nurse all the way through to Call the Midwife.

Anzac Girls is a much more serious business, though, a tale told from the bloody edge of the first war to deal out flesh-shattering death on an industrial scale.


That side of the story was just emerging in last night's first episode after the nurses arrived in Cairo, so wide-eyed and innocent about what was coming that their luggage included deckchairs.

Like many of the young soldiers they would soon be struggling to patch back together, the nurses saw the war as something involving duty, adventure and maybe even romance.

Anzac Girls, last night, seemed to have all of everything to tell the story " a flirty nurse, a serious one, one who hits the bottle, a religious one (Hilda from Remuera, played by Prebble), even a secretly married one, following her husband to the front.

There's a stern matron and several romantically inclined soldiers, including an odd, angular older one who talks unerringly like one of the mad officers out of the WWI Blackadder.

"One wishes," he intones at one point, "to keep close with things one cares for", which may have been quite hot romantic talk back in 1914 but lands like a bit of an anvil now.

He then tried for a quick snog with an alarmed young nurse. I don't recall which one. As mentioned, they all look a bit alike at this early stage of the story.

Sex did occur on last night's episode, thankfully not involving that older soldier, but rather Elsie, the secretly married one, in a sudden knickers-off moment in a tent with a man who turned out to be her husband, thank goodness.

I was on the edge of my seat, though I had my hands over my face during several of the surgery sequences, often featuring perfectly rendered gobbets of gore and screaming soldiers. Still, that's the vital heart of this story, fact-based, told strictly from the nurses' point of view and filmed with an epic sweep and a fine eye for costume and detail. It does look gorgeous, if sometimes a little clean. And funny, even if inadvertently. Like the scene with a nurse - again, not sure which one - gazing in rapt awe at the Great Pyramids. "It makes me feel ... insignificant," she tells her soldier friend, terribly significantly.


And then, a bit later, someone - possibly the same nurse - says, "I hardly know him and yet I've lost all interest in other men".

Gauche yet gripping. A great way to tell an old story new.