Neil Calloway looks at the rise in British World War II movies…
This week brought the news that Ridley Scott would be directing a film set during the Battle of Britain. It’s a surprise he hasn’t done it before; he was born two years before war was declared and his father was a career officer in the British Army; he lived it, rather than just having absorbed it through books and films after the fact.
The film joins two other films coming soon that tell of the British experience during the Second World War, Their Finest, a fun romantic dramedy starring the luminous Gemma Arterton and set in the British film industry of the time and Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk . 2017 will also see both Brian Cox and Gary Oldman play Winston Churchill in different projects. It feels like, after a couple of decades where they were few and far between, the British War film is making a comeback.
There are, I would argue, a couple of reasons for this. First there is the obvious one that the film industry will jump on any passing bandwagon, so if one film in a genre is successful you’ll see five more of the same type, and that the Second World War is probably the only period in British history where Britain sees itself as unequivocally on the right side.
Last year Government minister Liam Fox said that Britain was one of the few European countries that didn’t need to bury its 20th Century history, while at best this shows that Fox needs to read his history a bit closer and also think about how different British history would be if it wasn’t for the channel separating us from continental Europe, his view does reflect received wisdom in the UK; whether it’s true or not, we believe it’s our finest hour; flick through British TV channels at any time of day and you’ll always stumble upon a documentary about the conflict; the shelves of book shops are groaning under the weight of various tomes about every conceivable aspect of the war.
Now more films are joining the ranks of those made about the war made in the years during and immediately after the war; stirring black and white offerings starring John Mills and David Niven. It seems like Winston Churchill is slowly turning into a Hamlet-like character, in that every actor of a certain age wants to play him. As well as Oldman and Cox, John Lithgow, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall, Joss Ackland and Simon Russell Beale are just a few of the leading names who have played Britain’s wartime leader this century alone.
At a time when Britain is working out its place in the world, its no wonder people are choosing to be entertained by stories taking place at a time where everyone knew what the country stood for, and stood against.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future instalments.