World War 1 has been the subject of many documentaries focusing on various military, geographic or sociological aspects, covering the war in its entirety such as the very ambitious and excellent 1960 and 2014 BBC series, or exploring one particular campaign such as Gallipoli. The number of feature films and television drama set during this turning point of human history is even greater, from John Huston’s The African Queen, Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion to the recent The Wipers Time or the screen adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ epic love story Birdsong. Here is a selection from our DVD shelves:
Gallipoli from above: the untold story.
“This one-hour documentary overturns many of the myths about the Gallipoli landing; that the Australians landed at dawn, on the wrong beach, with little knowledge of the Turkish defences and they were led by incompetent British officers. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. The Australians ran their own show, using aerial intelligence, emerging technology and innovative tactics to land 20,000 troops on a heavily defended and precipitous shoreline…” (From Syndetics summary)
The great war. Volume 1, This may last a long time.
“The complete 1960s BBC documentary series on the Great War, with all 26 episodes. Narrated by Sir Michael Redgrave, this series features the best archive footage from one million feet of film and 20,000 photographs collected from 37 individual sources worldwide. There are interviews with war veterans and extracts from diaries, letters and reports from the war…” (Publishers description from Amazon.co.uk)
World War I : the centenary collection. Volume 1.
“Featuring Michael Palin in The Last Day of World War One. The First World War helped define us as people and as a nation. With five superb documentaries this collection presents a unique perspective on the Great War as we commemorate its centenary. Presented in a two-disc release, the collection reflects upon, and investigates different aspects of the conflict through breath-taking dramatic reconstructions, historical interpretation and state-of-the-art graphics”…(From syndetics summary)
World War 1 in colour.
“Up until now, World War 1 had always been seen as a war that happened in black & white, but that was not the reality. It was the first war to see the development of the fighter plane, the introduction of poison gas, the inventions of the tank and the wide use of machine guns and heavy artillery, which caused such mass destruction. Using rare archive footage from sources around the World, including Britain’s own Imperial War Museum, this 6 part series has been painstakingly colourised using the latest computer-aided technology to bring the first world war to colour, as experienced by those who fought and endured it. Narrated by Kenneth Branagh, this landmark series brings a unique perspective to the events of 1914-1918…” (From syndetics summary)
The Crimson field.
“In a British base hospital near the front, a team of doctors, nurses and VADs are working together to heal the bodies and souls of the men in their care. This hospital on the coast of France is a frontier between two worlds: between the trenches and the home front, between the old rules, regulations, hierarchies, class distinctions and a new way of thinking. Written by Sarah Phelps (Great Expectations, Oliver Twist) and starring Oona Chaplin (The Hour), Hermione Norris (Spooks), Suranne Jones (Scott and Bailey), Kevin Doyle (Downton Abbey), Kerry Fox (Shallow Grave) and Marianne Oldham (WPC 56) this is the story of World War One’s front line medics – their love affairs, professional triumphs, personal tragedies, fears and hopes as they fight for the future…” (Publishers description from Amazon.co.uk)
The red baron.
“Baron Manfred Von Richthofen is the most feared and celebrated pilot of the German Air Force in World War I. To him and his companions, air combats are events of a sporty nature, technical callenge and honourable acting, ignoring the terrible extent of war. But after falling in love with the nurse Kate, Manfred realizes he is only used for propaganda means. Caught between his disgust for the war and the responsibility for his fighter wing, Von Richthofen sets out to fly again…” (From Syndetics summary)
All quiet on the Western Front.
“If a classic movie can be measured by the number of indelible images it burns into the collective imagination, then All Quiet on the Western Front’s status is undisputed. Since its release in 1930 (and Oscar win for best picture), this film’s saga of German boys avidly signing up for World War I battle–and then learning the truth of war–has been acclaimed for its intensity, artistry, and grown-up approach. Erich Maria Remarque’s novel is faithfully followed, but Milestone’s superbly composed frames make it physical. The cast is strong, with little-known Lew Ayres finding stardom in the lead…” (From Amazon.co.uk review)
The Blue Max.
“The Blue Max is highly unusual among Hollywood films, not just for being a large-scale drama set during the generally cinematically overlooked Great War, but in concentrating upon air combat as seen entirely from the German point of view. The story focuses on a lower-class officer, Bruno Stachel (George Peppard), and his obsessive quest to win a Blue Max, a medal awarded for shooting down 20 enemy aircraft. Around this are built subplots concerning a propaganda campaign by James Mason’s pragmatic general, rivalry with a fellow officer (Jeremy Kemp), and a love affair with a decadent countess (Ursula Andress). Clearly influenced by Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1958), The Blue Max is a cold, cynical drama offering a visually breathtaking portrait of a stultified society tearing itself apart during the final months of the Great War…” (From Amazon.co.uk review)
“World War I aviation action gets an impressive digital upgrade in Flyboys. While earlier films had the advantage of real and genuinely dangerous flight scenes (resulting, in some cases, in fatal accidents during production), Flyboys takes full (and safe) advantage of the digital revolution, with intensely photo-realistic recreations of WWI aircraft, authentic period structures, and CGI environments… many of them virtually indistinguishable from reality… Director Tony Bill manages to keep it all interesting, from the romance between a young American maverick (James Franco) and a pretty French girl (newcomer Jennifer Decker) to the exciting action in the air and an intimidating villain known only as “The Black Falcon,” whose Fokker Dr-1 triplane (one of many in the film) recalls the exploits of German “ace of aces” Manfred von Richtofen, the dreaded “Red Baron” of legend…” (From Amazon.co.uk review)
“Mel Gibson and Mark Lee play two young sprinters who join in the army in search of adventure iconic representatives of the generation of young men that the newly federated Australia pitched into the slaughter of World War I. While Gallipoli does not shirk from the reality they discover, nor does it quite allow the characters’ enthusiasm for the enterprise ever to diminish, all of which helps make the climactic scenes, based on the suicidal assault enacted of the Australian Light Horse at The Nek on August 7th, 1915, among the most moving in modern cinema…” (From Amazon.co.uk review)
My boy Jack.
“It’s 1914 and the British Empire’s greatest supporter, Rudyard Kipling, is at the peak of his literary fame. Kipling’s son, Jack, is determined to play his part in the immiment war with Germany but finds himself rejected due to his poor eyesight. Kipling uses his influence to land Jack a commission in the Irish Guards. Kipling’s wife, Caroline, is bitterly upset, failing to see the glory in losing her only son to the war. How will the great writer, torn between his two greatest passions–devotion to King and Country and love for his family–justify the consequences of his actions to himself and his wife?…” (From Syndetics summary)
“Private Peaceful is based on the brilliant bestselling novel by Michael Morpurgo. It is the story of the unbreakable bond between two brothers during World War 1, from the innocence of their childhood in the fields of Devon to the violence of the battlefields of Flanders. In the trenches they experience the brutal injustice of war, far removed from rural family life and their rivalry for the love of the beautiful Molly Monks. Directed by Pat O Connor (Dancing at Lughnasa), with an all-British cast, Private Peaceful is a powerful and emotional tale of injustice, love, heroism and fierce family ties that will never be broken.” (Publishers description from Amazon.co.uk)
“From director Steven Spielberg comes War Horse, an epic adventure for audiences of all ages. Set against a sweeping canvas of rural England and Europe during the First World War, War Horse begins with the remarkable friendship between a horse named Joey and a young man called Albert, who tames and trains him. When they are forcefully parted, the film follows Joey’s the extraordinary journey as he moves through the war, changing and inspiring the lives of all those he meets – British cavalry, German soldiers and a French farmer and his granddaughter – before the story reaches its emotional climax in the heart of No Man’s Land. The First World War is experienced through the journey of this horse – an odyssey of joy and sorrow, passionate friendship and high adventure.” (Publishers description from Amazon.co.uk)
The Grand illusion.
“It’s long been one of the revered classics of international cinema. The story is set during World War I, mostly in a couple of German POW camps, where two very different French prisoners plot to escape: the working-class officer Maréchal (Jean Gabin, the French Spencer Tracy) and the upper-class de Boieldieu (Pierre Fresnay). The suspenseful backbone of the story is formed by these escape attempts, but Renoir is primarily concerned with the way people treat each other, and especially with how class and nationality inform human relations. After it won a prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1937, the Nazis declared the film “Cinematographic Enemy Number One”. There can be no higher praise…” (From Amazon.co.uk review)
Joyeux Noël = Merry Christmas.
“Joyeux Noel captures a rare moment of grace from one of the worst wars in the history of mankind, World War I. On Christmas Eve, 1914, as German, French, and Scottish regiments face each other from their respective trenches, a musical call-and-response turns into an impromptu cease-fire, trading chocolates and champagne, playing soccer, and comparing pictures of their wives. But when Christmas ends, the war returns… Based on a true incident (though considerably fictionalized)…” (From Amazon.co.uk review)
A very long engagement.
“In 1919, 19 year old Mathilde is told that her fiance Manech was killed at the Somme, but she refuses to believe it. A former sergeant tells her that Manech died in the no man’s land trench named Bingo Crepescule, in the company of four other men condemned to die for self-inflicted wounds. Mathilde still refuses to believe; anything is possible to someone who is willing to challenge fate…” (From Syndetics summary)
“ANZAC Girls is based on real events and real people. Like their brothers, fathers, lovers and husbands, these ANZAC Girls are our heroes. But they were also just ordinary girls. Our sisters, our daughters, ourselves, looking for adventure, love, fun and friendship. Beginning in the heady pre-Gallipoli days in Egypt, moving through the devastation of that campaign and the utterly unexpected casualty count, through the bitter months on the barren island of Lemnos, to the long hard years of the war in Europe and the Western Front, ANZAC Girls is personal, intimate and raw…” (From Syndetics summary)
The Wipers Times.
“It’s 1916 and British Captain Fred Roberts and his detachment discover an abandoned printing press in the ruins of Ypres, Belgium. Roberts has an idea, he will produce a newspaper to raise the spirits of his soldiers, taking their minds off ‘the attentions of Messrs Hun and Co.’ They call it The Wipers Times, after the army slang for Ypres, and fill it with spoofs, jokes, and subversive comedy. A hit with the troops on the Western Front, it also incurs the wrath of top brass who want it banned…” (From Syndetics summary)
In love and war.
“Richard Attenborough brings the story of Ernest Hemingway’s affair with a beautiful nurse during the First World War to the screen. Having conned his way into the Red Cross, 18-year-old Hemingway (Chris O’Donnell) interviews soldiers on the Italian front. When one of them is injured during an attack, Hemingway attempts to carry him to the hospital, but is himself shot in the leg. In hospital, his leg is saved from amputation by nurse Agnes von Kurowsky (Sandra Bullock). The two fall in love, but their relationship comes under strain when Agnes is sent to the front, and finds herself torn between two men after her colleague Dr Carraciolo proposes to her…” (Publishers description from Amazon.co.uk)
“Originally released as a television miniseries, these 5 episodes present a dramatic look at Australia’s participation in the Great War of 1914-1918 and focusses on a group of soldiers and nurses in the 8th Battalion. For 4 years Australia’s young men went to war half a world away and developed into a military force beyond peer. They made their own legend but at an appalling cost to themselves and their nation. Also includes a short documentary on the making of the series…” (From Syndetics summary)
All the King’s men.
“This BBC drama portrays the events leading up to and surrounding the disappearance at Gallipoli in 1915 of the Sandringham Company, made up of the King’s household staff. Led by estate manager Captain Frank Beck (David Jason), the company left their rural existence to fight in the Great War, and the news of their deaths in battle brought home the reality of the conflict to the royals for the first time. After the war, the Royal Family sent a special envoy to the region to try and discover what had happened to the company, but the truth was never fully revealed…” (From Syndetics summary)
Beneath Hill 60.
“Queensland miner, Oliver Woodward, undertrained and never having faced hostile fire before, finds himself on the Western Front leading a secret team of Australian tunnellers fighting to defend a leaking, labyrinthine tunnel system packed with high explosives. If Woodward and his men can hold out, the massive mines will produce the biggest explosion the world has ever known and could change the course of the war. But the Germans have discovered the Australians’ underground activity and as zero hour approaches, the whole Allied strategy could be in jeopardy… Based on an extraordinary true story…” (From Syndetics summary)
“Sebastian Faulks’ epic love story set against the First World War, which became a modern classic when it was published in 1993, is adapted for the screen for the first time by Abi Morgan. The action of the two part film moves between 1910 and 1916, telling the story of Stephen Wraysford (Eddie Redmayne), a young Englishman who arrives in Amiens in Northern France to stay with the Azaire family and falls desperately in love with Isabelle Azaire (Clémence Poésy). Years later, Stephen finds himself serving on the Western Front in the very area where he experienced his great love. As he battles amidst the blood and gore of the trenches he meets Jack Firebrace (Joseph Mawle), a tunneller who unexpectedly helps him endure the ravages of war and enables him to make peace with his feelings for Isabelle…” (Publishers description from Amazon.co.uk)
Paths of glory.
“Stanley Kubrick directs this classic 1950s drama based on the true story of French soldiers who refused to go over the top to certain death in the First World War. The film, which is in turn based on the novelisation of the incident by Humphrey Cobb, stars Kirk Douglas as Colonel Dax. When the vain and ambitious General Mireau (George Macready) orders Dax and his men to attack a well-fortified German position known as the Anthill, Dax informs him that the task is virtually impossible and will result in many deaths. Mireau insists that the attack proceeds and is outraged when the second wave of soldiers refuse to enter the battle after witnessing the slaughter of their comrades. When Mireau and his acolytes select three soldiers for court-martial as scapegoats for the rebellion, Dax – a lawyer during his civilian life – elects to defend the men from the charges himself…” (Publishers description from Amazon.co.uk)
Oh! what a lovely war.
“Based on a celebrated anti-war stage piece produced by Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop, the film chronicles the various madnesses of the First World War. Along with vignettes involving the members of the fictional Smith family, the movie lands its punches with a two-pronged attack: by using the songs of the war, mostly patriotic; and by using the real-life words of various figures from WWI. The songs are a historically fascinating lot, mostly given an ironic or sinister treatment in this incarnation, as jolly patriotic tunes that mask the utter carnage at the front. Among the high points is Maggie Smith singing (well, declaiming) an ode to recruitment, promising war as a grand adventure…” (Abridged from Amazon.co.uk review)
Testament of youth.
“Vera Brittain is a bright young woman growing up in a middle class Derbyshire family in 1914. Her world seems to be a constant fight with her father to be allowed to go to University like her brother. Suddenly the Great War starts and throws the whole of society into turmoil. By 1916 all her menfolk are all dead including her dear brother and fianc.̌ Vera gives up University and signs up as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) aka a nurse working just behind the front lines in a Field Hospitals in France and Belgium…” (From Syndetics summary)
Johnny got his gun.
“Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival, this anti-war film focuses on a young American soldier (Timothy Bottoms) who has been hit by a shell on the last day of the First World War. He is without limbs, eyes, ears, mouth or nose, and at the beginning of the film is in a coma. The doctors believe, and hope, he will not regain consciousness; in order to keep the ‘good order’ of the military, an Army general has instructed the hospital not to allow the boy to be seen or to notify his family, but has also insisted that the medical staff are not allowed to perform euthanasia. A nurse realises the young soldier is awake while changing his dressings. As he remains conscious, he tries to communicate to his doctors his wish to be put on show as a true example of the horrors of war…” (Publishers description from Amazon.co.uk)
The African Queen
Thrown together at the outset of World War I, the spinster sister of a British missionary and derelict captain of the launch, The African Queen, determine to pilot the boat down an unchartered river in an effort to destroy a German gunboat. Setting: German East Africa in 1914.
“The tragedy of New Zealand’s experience at Gallipoli is re-told in this historical story. New Zealand’s Wellington Regiment, new to warfare, shellshocked and exhausted, are ordered by their British Generals to take Chunuk Bair. For three days they battle their way to the ridge above. Blinded by a vision of glory and devotion to honour, the Regiment’s Commander pushes up the ridge to take the high ground. Outnumbered by the Turks the New Zealanders find themselves cut off and without supplies. Courage, determination and humour keep them fighting until what was to be their salvation becomes their final nightmare…” (From Syndetics summary)