War | Kilburnlad | Film | Reviews

Kilburnlad

Dunkirk


Dunkirk

We went to see Dunkirk yesterday on the day of its UK opening. It has received very positive reviews and in my opinion rightly so. This is not a war film in the usual genre, in that there is very little fighting. That is already over as we see thousands of troops waiting on a beach, in the vain and it would appear rapidly vanishing hope of being rescued. Exposed, cold, defeated and almost defenceless, they wait while the German aircraft attack.

The story is told through the eyes of Tommy, an ordinary soldier who at the beginning of the film only just escapes with his life from a small group that comes under German fire. On arriving at the beach he soon realises the hopelessness of it all and sets out to make his own luck by pretending to be a stretcher bearer carrying an injured soldier to the Red Cross ship moored at the mole (the word for a pier/causeway not used so much these days). It would be giving too much away to recount what then happens, but it's worth mentioning that the events that follow are shown many times during the film, on each occasion from the perspective of a different person. This can initially be a bit confusing until you realise what's happening.

While Tommy is the thread which permeates the story, we are also introduced to Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance), the skipper of one of the famous flotilla of small boats that set out to rescue the troops. Accompanied by his son, Peter, and a young friend, George, they make their way to Dunkirk, picking up on the way a seriously shell-shocked soldier, the sole survivor of a torpedoed rescue ship. The soldier's paranoid resistance to returning to Dunkirk leads to tragedy, but this doesn't stop Mr Dawson who knows what's expected of him.

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The Man with the Iron Heart (HHhH)


The Man with the Iron Heart (HHhH)

I mentioned in the last review that we had been in Lille, France. It was very hot while we were there, and on the Sunday afternoon, with the town being very quiet and the temperature soaring, we decided to spend a couple of hours in the air conditioned cinema. The choice of English language films was limited, and we decided to go for HHhH, which is the French title of this French made film. It is a film about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, HHhH being an acronym for Himmlers Hirn heißt Heydrich (Himmler's brain is called Heydrich), a quip about Heydrich said to have circulated in Nazi Germany at the time. Cetainly Heydrich is portrayed as being the brain behind the 'Final Solution', although my research suggests that this was a programme that evolved rather than being promoted exclusively by Heydrich. He was, however, a very unsavoury character, regarded by many historians as the darkest figure within the Nazi elite.

This is not an easy film, depicting as it does acts of extreme violence against the Czech people during the German occupation in 1942. Reinhard Heydrich, a disgraced naval officer who rejected his existing lover when he met Lina von Osten, a member of the Nazi Party and daughter of a German aristocrat, played very convincingly in the film by Rosamund Pike. Lina persuaded Heydrich to look into joining Himmler's counter intelligence division and he was subsequently appointed by Himmler as director of the Reich Main Security Office, and later Adolf Hitler appointed him Protector of Bohemia and Moravia.

This film tells effectively two stories, one being the life of Heydrich and the other of the Czech and Slovak soldiers, Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík, who were trained by the British Special Operations Executive to assassinate Heydrich. Heydrich is portrayed as evil, a not unfair depiction according to historians. He is also shown as being less than loving to his wife, at one point telling her that if she complains about his trips away one more time, she will cease to be his wife. His treatment of Resistance fighters is brutal, most opting to take a poison capsule rather than be captured alive. In one harrowing scene towards the end of the film, a young boy is made to witness his father being tortured as a way of getting him to talk. Quite upsetting.

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Wonder Woman


Wonder Woman

We were in Lille, France, for a week, and while there we saw Wonder Woman. It was the original English language version with French subtitles, although all the pre-film advertisements etc. were of course in French. We saw it in a multiplex and were treated to a wide-screen experience.

This film has been well received, in part because it's refreshing to have a female superhero, even if we have to have a male lead in the form of Chris Pine alongside. Hollywood likes to hedge its investment bets! The storyline starts by showing us how Diana of Themyscira (aka Wonder Woman) matures from the only child on the woman-only island into a super Amazonian with powers that surpass those of any mere mortal, basically because she's a demigoddess, although she doesn't yet know this. Her mother, Queen Hippolyta, tries to stop Diana learning to fight, but her aunt, General Antiope, defies her sister's wishes, recognising Diana's potential and her future need to protect herself.

Introduced into this tribe of elite women warriors drops (literally) Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American airman cum spy who is trying to escape the German army, having stolen a note book from an evil chemist who is developing a deadlier form of mustard gas. Diana, personified by Israeli actor Gal Gadot, rescues Steve from a watery grave just before a German warship breaks through the island's surrounding veil. The ensuing skirmish that pits Amazonian athleticism and bows and arrows against firearms is a well choreographed scene that uses slow motion sequences to good effect. The Germans defeated (although not sure why the warship didn't send more), Diana interrogates Steve using her magic lasso, since as Steve is a spy he won't talk voluntarily. Steve tells them about the war to end all wars, namely World War I, and Diana is immediately convinced that she must leave the island to stop the this terrible conflict. Her mother forbids it, but Diana is sure that the god Ares is behind this war, and believes that if she can stop him the war will end. As you would expect, and because the story demands it, Diana defies her mother and sets off with Steve, taking a ceremonial sword that she believes to be the 'Godkiller', a weapon bestowed to the Amazons by Zeus.

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The Promise


The Promise

This is a film that takes an important if much contested historical event as the setting for a love triangle. The event is the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire, although Turkey has never accepted the term genocide for what took place. The love triangle is between Mikael, an Armenian medical student, Ana, an Armenian raised largely in Paris and her boyfriend, Chris, an American journalist.

Mikael has left his village for Constantinople to study medicine. He is betrothed to Maral back in his village, the dowry he received funding his studies. Mikael's father has told him to contact an uncle in Constantinople who runs a successful business and it is when Mikael goes to his uncle's house that he meets Ana, who appears to be a form of governess for the children. Meanwhile, in medical school Mikael makes friends with Emre, a reluctant student but the son of high-ranking Turkish official. At a reception at Emre's house Mikael again meets Ana who's with her boyfriend Chris. Ana and Mikael, who are mutually attracted to each other, subsequently begin a relationship

It isn't long before things turn nasty as Armenians are rounded up and fear spreads. Mikael is temporarily reprieved thanks to his friend Emre, but as a result Emre himself incurs the displeasure of his father. Ana and Mikael witness the ransacked shop of his uncle and Mikael goes to try to secure his uncle's release. Emre again tries to help, but this time his influence isn't strong enough and Mikael ends up doing hard labour on a railway construction project under the eyes of brutal Turkish soldiers. A chain of events result in his escape and he eventually makes his way back to his village where his family and Maral are waiting. Maral's father insists on a quick wedding after which the couple move to a remote cabin.

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Their Finest


Their Finest

Their Finest
is set in London in 1940 and takes us into the cinematic world of wartime propaganda. The Dunkirk evacuation is still raw in the minds of the public and the Ministry of Information is keen to raise moral while at the same time seeking to convince the Americans that they should join the war. Catrin, played by Gemma Arterton, has been identified as a possible script copywriter, bringing the female perspective to these public information films. She has come to London from Wales to be with her husband, Ellis, an artist whose work isn't actually mainstream, and unsurprisingly isn't selling well. Thus it falls to Catrin to earn some money.

Catrin is dispatched to interview two sisters who 'borrowed' their father's boat to join the Dunkirk evacuation. This is seen as an ideal story upon which to base a moral-lifting film. Catrin is to work with Tom, who first spotted a piece she had written. Tom's sarcasm and dismissiveness of women's dialogue as 'slop' leads to a continuing and often amusing banter between them, although it soon becomes apparent that he is attracted to her. The third member of the team is Raymond, who largely just watches on as the other two trade words. Phyl Moore, played by Rachel Stirling, keeps tabs on the team on behalf of the Ministry, her clear preference for women playing well with Tom's brand of sarcasm.

After an initial hiccup, the decision to make the film is made, and Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy) is to play the sister's uncle. This was a role reluctantly accepted, as Ambrose, once famous for a screen detective, wants to play Johnny, the young rescued soldier. At risk of losing his agent, Ambrose eventually agrees to the lesser role. Things are progressing well when the team are told that they must incorporate an American serviceman in the cast, the handsome Norwegian Carl Lundbeck (even Phyl's head is turned), but unfortunately he can't act. Catrin is called upon to pander to Ambrose's ego when they want him to help Carl deliver his lines. In fact, Catrin, who earlier in the film has a brush with Ambrose, becomes his trusted scriptwriter, upon whom he comes to depend.

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The Zookeeper's Wife


The Zookeeper's Wife

Set in Poland just before Germany's invasion in 1939, we are introduced to Jan and Antonina Żabiński, who run the Warsaw Zoo. Everything is sweetness and light as Antonina is seen cycling around the zoo, followed by a young camel, while stopping off to feed various animals. But this idyll is soon to be shattered and it isn't long before we see German bombs falling on the zoo. Many animals are killed and those that aren't are acquired by Lutz Heck of the Berlin Zoo. Lutz and the Żabińskis were acquainted before the war, and he convinces Antonina that taking their prize animals to Berlin was their only chance of survival. Lutz's true character becomes more apparent when he later returns as a German officer and supervises the destruction of most of the remaining animals. You will have gathered by now that this is probably not a film for the children.

With the animals mostly gone Jan and Antonina turn their attention to the plight of the Jewish people, who have been rounded up by the Nazis into a ghetto. At great risk they first shelter a close friend, but soon develop a strategy to help many others. Converting the zoo into a pig farm gives them the opportunity to collect food scraps from the ghetto, and among the pile of scraps Jan brings out children. The venture becomes even more daring when, helped by an official in the ghetto, Jan obtains papers enabling him to take workers out through the gates. In this way hundreds are helped. To facilitate their ultimate escape women have their hair dyed blond to pass as Aryan.

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Hacksaw Ridge

This week's film at the cinema was Hacksaw Ridge. I hadn't researched it beforehand and must say that I was pleasantly surprised.

Hacksaw Ridge

It's a film of two parts. The first charts the early life of Desmond Doss, a country lad from Virginia who learns a salutary lesson early in life when he nearly kills his brother in a fight. This episode, along with the influence of his religious mother, and his Seventh-Day Adventist religion, reinforces in him the commandment that states, 'Thou shalt not kill'. When the young men in the town start signing up to fight in World War II, Desmomd feels that he must too. But his religious and conscientious beliefs mean that he does not want to fight. He wants to save lives as a medic. This desire arose from an incident whereby he effectively saves the life of a young man, an event that also leads to him meeting a nurse, Dorothy Shutte, to whom he is instantly attracted. A rather innocent courtship ensues and the couple arrange to be married on Desmond's first leave period from his army training.

And so to the second part of the film, a much darker and hard-hitting affair. The army isn't ready to receive a recruit who is a conscientious objector, who refuses to contemplate killing and who won't even hold a rifle. His superiors set out to make life so uncomfortable for him that he will chose to seek a discharge. But they hadn't reckoned with his resolve, and after a courts martial hearing that unexpectedly fails to convict Desmond, he is free to join the other troops and go to war unarmed.

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Allied

Today's film was Allied, with Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. Brad's break up with Angelina and rumours about an affair with Ms Cotillard have sort of overshadowed this film, and reviews have certainly been mixed. Peter Bradshaw at the Guardian was scathing about the lack of chemistry between them, although I suppose it depends on how you define chemistry. As operatives working behind enemy lines at the beginning of the film you would expect a certain amount of distrust between them, but the relationship seemed to warm up nicely as things progressed.

Allied

After a daring assassination in German occupied Casablanca the pair, Max Vatan and Marianne Beauséjour return to London to marry, after awaiting the outcome of a positive vetting for Marianne. Everything is domestic bliss until Max is summoned to meet an intelligence officer, whereupon he is told that his wife may not in fact be who he thinks she is. In fact she may be working for the Germans. Max will not accept this and proceeds to ignore orders in his quest to prove her innocence. This unfortunately doesn't have the outcome that he was hoping for, but it doesn't diminish his feelings for her.

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Suite Française

We saw Suite Française today. Set in the French town of Bussy during the early part of the Second Word War, it at first shows us how the residents react to the arrival of German soldiers, which in many cases amounts to denigrating their neighbours in order to win favour for themselves.

Suite Française

The story revolves around Madame Angellier, a fearsome lady who has few friends, being that she collects rent from many of the locals, and her daughter-in-law, Lucile, who she domineers and demeans. Into this strained company comes the German officer Bruno von Falk. Lucile's husband is away fighting, but their marriage appears to have been arranged and Madame Angellier is clearly of the opinion that Lucile is not good enough for her son.

Bruno turns out to be a true gentleman, who composes music, and Lucile soon finds herself with romantic feelings for him, despite the ill feeling towards French women who consort with Germans. But meanwhile others are not faring as well under the German occupation. A family that rents a farm from Madame Angellier is particularly affected when a German officer billeted with them starts to show an interest in the farmer's wife. A sequence of events leads to the death of this officer, which provokes a deadly response from the German command.

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American Sniper

We saw two films this week. The first outing on Wednesday was to see American Sniper.

American Sniper

Critical reviews of this film were mixed but box office receipts would suggest that it has been popular with audiences. The chief criticisms seem to be that it was blatant American propaganda, it inaccurately portrayed Chris Kyle and it unfairly implied that all Iraqi people were 'bad' while all American troops were 'good'. In other words your average war movie albeit the players may be different depending on the conflict being portrayed.

I wouldn't disagree with any of those criticisms but having accepted these shortcomings I found it a very watchable film. I suppose the difficulty lies in it being based on 'fact' and perhaps it would have been better if it was a purely fictional tale, as the 'truth' would not then have got in the way.

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The Imitation Game

We saw The Imitation Game on Wednesday. The staff at the cinema had told us that it was very popular, and other reviews have been good. And it was good. Benedict Cumberbatch is carving out quite a niche for himself for playing intriguing characters, which started I suppose with Sherlock Holmes in the TV series.

Turing was a very interesting man. To what extent Cumberbatch's portrayal matches the reality is speculative, but I think he gives a convincing performance of what we think Turing was like. The main story is a matter of record, although I believe that there were earlier contributions from Polish cryptologists that haven't been acknowledged. And I'm not sure that the sub-plots had a lot of basis in fact. But without these embellishments we presumably would have a documentary rather than a popular film.

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Fury

We saw Fury yesterday. It is a film that doesn't pull any punches and while I have no personal experience of war, I think this film probably does a good job of portraying the inhumanity and the psychological suffering that people must experience. From the hardened soldiers to the young office clerk who is initiated into the tank crew by being made to shoot an unarmed prisoner in the back. From the SS officers to the German child soldiers, and those other young Germans who were publicly hung by the SS for refusing to fight.

Fury

There wasn't much glory on display until the final sequence, which was a bit fanciful, but this was probably a matter of playing to audience expectations. I suppose it's in the same genre as Saving Private Ryan, although in some respects more sobering. Of course it was the usual American story with no acknowledgement of other allied forces, but we're all used to that by now.

If you like war movies and are not put off by gore then it's a film worth seeing.


The Free State of Jones

Today we saw The Free State of Jones, a drama set during the American Civil War. It stars Matthew McConaughey as Newton Knight, a man who walked away from the civil war conflict to set up a community of like-minded people, including a number of former slaves. The reviews have been mixed, some professional critics having a problem with the fact that it's "yet another" black slavery story told from a white perspective. Audiences, meanwhile, see-saw between thinking it to be brilliant, to believing that it is too long, has too many sub plots and is too slow. I enjoyed it, if for nothing else that it showed once more the struggle that then existed, and still exists to this day, for African Americans seeking equality in society.

The Free State of Jones

A young kinsman of Knight is killed during a battle, and this is the catalyst for him deserting, albeit initially solely to return his son's body home. Having been branded a deserter there's no going back and after escaping a posse with chase dogs he is helped to a refuge in the Mississippi swamps, where he meets former slaves. Meanwhile the confederate soldiers are taking food and livestock from farming families and Knight's support for them transforms him and his group from being merely a nuisance into a perceived threat to the confederacy. His group grows as he convinces them that the real enemy are the land owners, whose sons are not conscripted. "We are fighting a war for their cotton".

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