Image credit: PBS http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/great-war/
Last week I gave suggestions of fiction and nonfiction to read after watching The Great War on PBS’s marvelous American Experience. Today I’m recommending my favorite World War I films and a new one that I haven’t yet seen.
Although America wasn’t yet in the war, few moments in any war are held in such reverence as the Christmas Truce of 1914. There are other film depictions of this event, but this film, Joyeux Noel, is my favorite. Nothing is sugar coated. The atmosphere is just right. The actors are just right. It is superb.
As Americans we are not taught much about the Australian and New Zealand Corps (ANZAC) contribution to World War I. They were the victims of on of the worst decisions Winston Churchill ever made. (He was then First Lord of the Admiralty). So bad was the decision that he left the cabinet and served as an officer in the trenches for a while. Gallipoli and Beersheba are names that ring like “Bunker Hill” and “Gettysburg” do in for us. The Lighthorsemen and Gallipoli.
While there are liberties taken with the story here, this is a lovely film that completely captures the essence of the era. Plus, it was Harry Potter (aka Daniel Ratcliffe’s) first (or close) outing in a grown-up role. My Boy Jack.
Like Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in the Spanish American War, the Lafayette Escadrille were the glamour guys of the Great War. Flying was barely happening when the war begin. It was no accident the planes were still often called “kites.” And, just as young men of all nations would flock to Spain for adventure in the civil war there in the 1930s, young men in 1914 beat a path to France to fly. That they were young and often handsome has made them the stuff of legends. This film version is a a fine period piece. Flyboys.
An oldie, but a goodie, plus it stars Christopher Plummer and Simon Ward. I had crushes on both Simon Ward and Simon Williams in the 70s, so naturally I had to go see this one! The life expectancy of pilots on either side was so short it was measured in mere days. America, later, would have heros of our own from the pilot ranks. Quentin Roosevelt, son of Theodore, would die in the War flying for the home team. He was just 20 years old. But this film, Aces High, is about British flyers.
There are many more great World War I films–and loads of excellent t.v. series beyond Downton Abbey. Upstairs, Downstairs (the original 1970s series) won awards for one episdoe that portrayed the war thru the eyes of a soldier home on leave–a footman from the Downstairs part of the “family,” who has a breakdown–the Upstairs, gentleman officer, in the series–my then-beloved Simon Williams–had his share of problems too. Being that much closer to the War in terms of time passed, so there were still folks around who remembered it. And, best of all–no Melty-faced Patrick-Mummy-Guy like on Downton Abbey. You can watch Upstairs, Downstairs on Youtube. Here is the classic wartime episode.
[For the record, I did not really like or miss Lady Marjorie! Shocking, I know. But I adored Virginia. You can read more here.]