15 WWI Movies You Should Watch

It’s an interesting thing that while there is a huge amount of American movies on WWII, the really outstanding WWI movies mostly come from other countries. It’s no coincidence but I’m not going to elaborate on the reasons, it may suffice to say, that the leading film making countries for WWI are Australia, France and the UK. There are many movies but those below are the ones I consider to be must-sees if you want to delve into the topic. I have reviewed all of the below mentioned movies with one exception. You can find the links at the end of each entry.

While I usually arrange these lists chronologically I did split them into countries of origin in this case.

Australia

Gallipoli (1981). One of the classic WWI movies. A Peter Weir film starring the young Mel Gibbson. The focus is on two friends who enlist more in a spirit of adventure than patriotism. They will take part in one of WWI’s most futile battles, at Gallipoli, in Turkey. The end of the movie is harrowing and gives a good impression of the absurdity of the war.

The Lighthorsemen (1987) This is one of the very rare cavalry combat movies. It has a nice “band of brothers” feel. Highly watchable. The Lighthorsemen were fighting in Africa and their achievement is legendary. Something the Australians are still proud of. Review

Beneath Hill 60 (2010).  Another movie which shows an outstanding and truly amazing Australian victory. The movie is set in the trenches and beneath them and shows how much the miners contributed to the war. Review

France

La Grande Illusion – Grand Illusion (1937) This is a classic. One of Jean Renoir’s great movies starring the unforgettable Jean Gabin. It has a very surreal touch which should emphasize the absurdity of war. It’s a prisoner of war movie. Review

La vie et rien d’autre – Life and Nothing But (1989). Beautiful movie focussing on the time after the war. So many men were lost on the battle fields, so many dead soldiers not identified. One woman is looking for her husband in this bleak but beautiful Tavernier movie. Review

La Chambre des officiers – The Officer’s Ward (2001). WWI is notorious for the facial wounds. No other war has scarred men like this one (due to the specific explosives). This is a movie which focuses on these wounds. Of all the war movies I have seen (many), this was one of the best but also one of the hardest to watch. I had nightmares. Review

UK

The Blue Max (1966). An air combat movie with a German POV. Themes are class and the arrogance and sporting mind of the combat pilots. Most pilots in WWI were aristocrats, not so Lt Stachel. Review

Aces High (1976). An air combat movie, not one of the best but not bad either. Less character driven than the last one. Review

Regeneration – Behind the Lines (1997). Based on Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy it looks into shell shock, the war experience of some famous poets and the birth of a medical discipline, namely psychiatry. Review

All the King’s Men (1999). The movie tells the story of a company who seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth. As if they had been swallowed. It illustrates how badly prepared some of the troops were, especially at the beginning of the war. The English had a hard time in some terrain, notably Africa. The story begins like a ghost story but you will find out what happened to the company. It’s all too real. Review

My Boy Jack (2007). The movie tells the true story of Rudyard Kipling’s son Jack. The story is exemplary. Misguided patriotism makes Kipling push his only son who is very illfitted and as visually impiared as a mole to join. At first I had a problem with Daniel Radcliffe as Jack but other than that this is an excellent and very emotional movie. And so heartbreaking. Tissues might be needed. Review

US

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). One of the first war movies ever. Quite ground breaking. Based on Erich Maria Remarque’s eponymous novel. It has one of the best scenes I’ve seen in a war movie. Review

Paths of Glory (1957). Kubricks’ classic look at the short comings of French high command and the horror of trench warfare. Review

Germany/France/UK

Joyeux Noël – Merry Christmas (2005). This is one of my personal favourites for more than one reason. It shows an incredible true story, the story of the little peace during the great war. During the first Christmas the troops stopped fighting and got together to play football in no mans’ land. The actors are all great and chosen from their respective countries. Review

The Red Baron (2008). This is one of those guilty pleasure movies. It was criticized in Germany because it didn’t emphasize the “hunting and sport” spirit that drove the aristocratic pilots like von Richthofen, called the Red Baron, to join up. He is shown like a hero. The negative side is not touched. Funny enough this is only true for the German version, the English got it better. Review

Advertisements

My Boy Jack (2007) or Why Daniel Radcliffe should not be starring in the Remake of All Quiet on the Western Front

This post is about two very different things. A good movie and a bad choice for a cast.

Based on the play with the same name written by the very same actor who is playing Kipling, David Haig, the movie tells us the tragic story of Kipling´s only son who went missing during WWI on the Western front in the Battle of Loos.

For reasons I will elaborate here My Boy Jack was an interesting, touching if a somewhat disappointing movie. Interesting since it showed the famous author Rudyard Kipling in another light and because it depicted the very onset of WWI and Britain’s reluctance to participate in this war at first. The tragedy of the war in the trenches with its enormous loss of lives in a very brief moment (we hear that the first day of the armed conflict cost almost 12000 British lives) is illustrated eloquently.
Kipling is shown as a dominant figure for whom the love of his country comes long before anything else. His values of manly courage and seeking of glory are really off-putting. The whole character is obnoxious. From the moment he knows the war will finally start his sole aim is to have his only 17-year-old son participate.
Unfortunately Jack is extremely short-sighted and without his glasses he is almost blind. The doctors performing the medical examinations do not want him to join the navy nor the army since it would be much too dangerous should he lose his spectacles during battle. His father being the influential and stubborn  man he is pulls every string to have  his son accepted against all better judgement.
Knowing the tragic story we sadly watch the inevitable unfold.
After his initial training and having been appointed lieutenant Jack is sent to France. He gets to know constant rain and shelling, the bleakness of the trenches and the muddy no-man’s-land around them.
After days of waiting his company is finally told they will have to attack.
The fear and anguish of the men who know  by now that most of them will face a certain death is quite touching.
It will be Jacks first and last battle. A few weeks after his departure to France his family gets notified that he’ s been reported missing in action.
What  follows is quite dramatic and good acting. Kim Cattrall (Sex and the City–yes, indeed) playing the mother is very convincing, so are the sister (Carey Mulligan) and David Haig as the father. The family wants to know what happened. Is Jack wounded but alive? Is he dead? Did he suffer? Of course Kipling constantly asks himself if he is guilty. The depiction of their grief and the father’s despair is very heartfelt. It moves you to tears. It is difficult to imagine what it was like to wait more than a year  until they finally had some hints about what had happened. So why was I disappointed? Because I found Daniel Radcliffe absolutely not good.
(To know that he will have the leading role in  the remake of All Quiet on the Western Front is hard to stomach).
He is really not a very good actor. Or maybe not yet. He should have some more qualifications for a role than his age. But actually it is not so much his acting that I criticize than the way he  looks. For me he has absolutely no charisma.
Since the movie in itself is good and knowing that many people are very fond of him as an actor and also consider him great in My Boy Jack, I still suggest you watch this movie. Even more so should you be interested in Rudyard Kipling.

For the interested reader I posted Kipling’s poem about the loss of his only son.  And who likes can also watch the video below and see David Haig render it in the movie.

“Have you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind —
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!