Of the shows and movies commemorating this year's Anzac centennial, it's hard not to think eight-part Australian mini-series Gallipoli will be the one that goes down in history itself.

After all, it's big. There's almost three feature films worth of screentime in its episodes - which start screening on both sides of the Tasman next week - and it has nearly 150 speaking roles.

It starts with Anzac soldiers landing on the peninsula on April 25 and ends with the evacuation eight months later. It's based on by Les Carlyon's 2001 best-selling account of the campaign, so it sticks to his detailed history as close as possible, says series director Glendyn Ivin who recreated the battlefields on the Mornington Peninsula, southeast of Melbourne, but also filmed landscapes in Turkey.

"It's a really tricky story to get right and we've done everything we can to get it right. But it's not a documentary.

Advertisement

"No one will touch this story again for another 50 years so we knew we had to get it right now."

The riveting, bloody opening episode introduces young Australian soldier Tolly Johnson (Codi Smit-McPhee) as he and his comrades - including his big brother Bevan - wade ashore at dawn to get pinned down repeatedly in the hills above.

Meanwhile, observing from the comforts of his warship offshore is General Sir Ian Hamilton (veteran Kiwi actor John Bach). It's not just a study of the invasion's first days as seen from both ends of the military hierarchy.

"We kind of looked metaphorically - Codi, to us, represented Australia and New Zealand. A young country being called out to do something for the first time by the British Empire who was very old and established and had done things a certain way for hundreds of years and was coming to the end of its reign.

"That is what we found in Hamilton historically - and in the way that John Bach created his character. John Bach was incredible."

Ivin says Hamilton might start out as the villain but be becomes an empathetic character as the series progresses. "Even though he was making terrible decisions, you do, in some way, feel for him."

Another notable New Zealand face to feature in the action is Grant Bowler as Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone, commander of the Wellington Battalion, believed killed by friendly fire on Chunuk Bair in August 1915.

"We try to avoid using words like heroic or brave but he does come across as such a gung-ho character," says Ivin of Malone.

Advertisement

The tone of the series takes its cues from Carlyon's book.

"A lot of the population [in Australia] would see it as this triumphant event of spirit and courage and there are definitely lot of those moments in the series. But generally there is a lot of sadness, a real feeling of dread and melancholy and that war is a horrible horrible thing.

"That was my job - to try to find the lyricism among the history... be respectful while trying to make it epic."

When: Wednesday, February 11
Where: TV3
What: Epic Australian production about the Gallipoli campaign

* Follow TimeOut on Facebook

- TimeOut