The Year Earth Changed

Photograph: Apple TV+
Rating 7.6
Streamer Apple TV+
Seasons 1
Episodes 1 x 50 mins

For most of us, 2020 was a bit of a shocker. There was both political chaos and Covid-19 sweeping the globe, leaving us all locked inside with our nerves, going slightly doolally and counting down the minutes until the clock struck midnight to mark the 1st of January 2021. But it turns out, not all of earth’s inhabitants were so put out by the pandemic…

In fact, for some it actively benefited them – our wildlife. As we fled the streets, nature moved in, and who better to tell us all about it, than Sir David Attenborough. And isn’t it a comfort to look back on last year with something other than dread and fear? With Sir David’s reassuring narration, we know we’re in for a cosy telly treat to soothe our weary souls.

Especially when he’s showing us footage of nature healing for once, rather than being destroyed by our reckless consumption. He tells us that just a few weeks into the first lockdown, the amount of air, noise and water pollution had dropped by as much as 80% in some areas, and nature responded accordingly – turtles basking on the beach undisturbed by holidaymakers, deer in Japan grazing on usually inaccessible land, whales lowering their voices, no longer needing to drown out the shipping traffic, and stunning scenery revealing itself in Jalandhar as the smog finally lifted.

Love a David Attenborough Doc? Planet Earth is among the best

Obviously, there is a lesson here on how much we as humans are holding nature back, and if they’d have felt so inclined, the producers of this film could well have lectured us about our impact, making us all feel pretty rotten. But thankfully, they didn’t. Instead, we get to enjoy this glorious display of nature, left only with a gentle nudge to tread slightly more carefully post-pandemic.

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The Financial Times’s Dan Einav says it’s easy to dismiss this film at first, for being a “a saccharine attempt at finding a positive from this ordeal or as a chance for Apple’s still-fledgling streaming platform to buy into Attenborough’s prestige. But after a few minutes it becomes almost impossible to feel anything but pure joy at the sight of endangered species and fragile ecosystems thriving as a result of global closures.” And regarding the messages of human impact on the planet, Variety’s Caroline Framke rightly states, “Attenborough has found a way of delivering them with patience, gravity and an undeniable expertise that makes him impossible to ignore.” However, despite the cheery focus of the documentary, showing how “lockdown has been a gift to wildlife all over the world,” Victoria Segal in The Times can’t help but “suspect that human nature will be restored and the mountains will vanish again.”

First shown April 2021. You can watch the trailer here:

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