Women in War Movies

War movies are a genre in which women will rarely if ever play major roles.

However there are a few that come to mind immediately.

Nurses

Mothers

Wives

Girl friends

Resistance fighters

Soldiers

Officers

Victims

The nurse is by far the most common role. In many movies they are very prominent. Especially in the sub genre of the war romance they get more than just small roles. (Yes, Pearl Harbor (2001) comes to mind, but…)

Some fine examples of nurses can be found in The Lighthorsemen (1987), In Love and War (1996), The English Patient (1996).

Mothers, wives, fiancées are often found at the very beginning of a movie, when the soldiers leave their homes like in Dark Blue World aka Tmavomodry svet (2001). We often see them again, reading a letter arriving from the field as in The Thin Red Line (1998).  They serve as a sort of counterpoint to make the contrast between those who fight and those who stayed home even bigger. Then, you may find them once more at the very end, when the soldiers return home. One of the most poignant and touching wives is Madeleine Stowe in We Were Soldiers (2002). The story moves back and forth between the battle field and the home front depicting the agony the soldier´s wives went through when the telegrams arrived telling them one of their husbands had been killed.

Nurses become very often soldiers’ girl-friends which makes the two roles blend into each other. But many of the classic girl friends in movies depicting the second WW are the girls the men encounter in the countries they are shipped to. The American soldiers in The Pacific for example have Australian girl friends.

The role of the resistance fighter is quite a noble one. Not very frequent but appealing. Cate Blanchett as Charlotte Gray (2001) comes to mind. Or the women in Uprising (2001). And definitely Sophie Scholl (2005). The latest example of this kind is Carice van Houten as the jewish woman Rachel Stein who joins the Dutch resistance after having survived a massacre in the brilliant Black Book aka Zwartboek (2006).

Female soldiers that are even involved in combat are not very frequent. The most remarkable one I remember is the Vietnamese sniper in Full Metal Jacket (1987). A further female soldier  is played by Demi Moore in G.I. Jane (1997) where she is said to be the first woman  to have  been granted access to the navy SEALS.

Women as officers is by far more common. Again Demi Moore played a role in the excellent legal drama A Few Good Men (1992). And then there is Meg Ryan as medevac chopper pilot Capt. Karen Walden in Courage under Fire (1996).

Unfortunately some of the above mentioned portraits of women in war movies are quite questionable and have been criticised repeatedly (especially G.I. Jane).

I almost forgot the victims. Inexcusable. There are as innumerable female victims in real wars as there are high numbers in movies. One of the saddest are the victims in Vietnam war movies. I think of  Platoon (1986) and Casualties of War (1989). They are not the only ones. Of course not.

My favourite heroines are Cate Blanchett as Charlotte Gray, the wonderful Juliette Binoche as nurse  in The English Patient and, another nurse, Sandra Bullock in In Love and War, and the outstanding Julia Jentsch as Sophie Scholl. The first two are based on novels, the other two on historical facts. Sandra Bullock plays the nurse Ernest Hemingway fell in love with when he fought in Italy during WWI.

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8 thoughts on “Women in War Movies

  1. warmoviebuff says:

    I loved Madeline Stowe in “Last of the Mohicans” who represents the woman who mans up in a crisis. The girl in “Ballad of a Soldier” representing the brief romance. Also like Meryl Streep’s character in “The Deer Hunter” – the unrequited love left behind.

    • Madeline Stowe is fantastic. But I still haven’t made up my mind if I should include it. Had a discussion yesterday and I think I will in the end. It will give me an opportunity to rewatch it and review it. Two good things. It is brilliant by many standards.

  2. Bogong Jack says:

    Assuming you are interested in films where women are the protagonists, either by taking an active part in the war or being majorly affected by it, here are some others you might like to consider ….

    PW camps/ Internees
    “Paradise Road”
    “A Town Like Alice”
    “Three Came Home”
    “Sisters of War” (TV)

    Resistance
    “Joan of Paris”
    “Rome Open City”
    “Odette”
    “Carve her Name with Pride”
    “Against the Wind”
    “So Little Time”
    “Kanal”
    “Lucie Aubrac”
    “Les Femmes de l’Ombre”
    “Nurse Edith Cavell”
    “Black Book”
    “Rosenstrasse”

    Home Front
    “Mrs Miniver”
    “Two Women”

    Mixed bag
    “Heaven Knows Mr Allison”
    “Piccadilly Incident”
    “Indecent Obsession”

    I generally have left out any films with romance as a major focus … though I let “A Town Like Alice” and “Piccadilly Incident” scrape through …

    What do you think?

    • Yes, indeed you did asssume correctly. I still need to do a proper post with a list and am very grateful for your input, it’s a great list, thanks. This was one of my earliets posts and I didn’t do it in so much detail.
      I would also leave out romance.
      I tried to find some with female soldiers but apart from a few Russian ones there aren’t many.

  3. Stillwell says:

    Woman in Berlin

  4. John Moore says:

    Ice Cold in Alex

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