Category: WWI

The Passing Bells (2014 BBC Series)

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Why do I watch these series that make me go through a box of tissues?  Can someone answer me, please?  It’s that phrase that continually resounds in my brain, “Lest We Forget.”

Since I’ve recently written a book set in England during World War I, between finding all of my distant cousins who perished, plus doing research non-stop, I’ve been pulled into this terrible conflict. The more I watch, the more I cry.  Someone on the Period Drama Group on Facebook suggested The Passing Bells. It’s streaming on BritBox, if you care to watch it.  It’s also on sale on Amazon but in overseas format only. Beware, the ending will rip your heart out.

It’s a story that spans four years of the World War I, seen through the eyes of two young lads – one from England and one from Germany.  From the moment that war is declared and they enlist, the story flips back and forth following their training and fighting in a war that after four years becomes tiresome and pointless.

In addition to their lives, the story touches upon their families — the fears of their mothers when they enlist, the proud fathers who wish their sons the best, the young ladies the young lads love, and the effects of war upon their home communities. It also places the audience in the trenches and at the battle of Somme, which was the most horrific battle where in reality 420,00 English soldiers, 434,000 German, and 200,000 French died.  At the end of the series, the following is shown – What passing-bells for these who die as cattle. (Anthem for Doomed Youth byWilford Owen)

There is great hope as you watch this five-part series that the two young lads (Thomas played by Patrick Gibson as the English soldier and Michael played by Jack Lowden as the German soldier) will survive. As you watch the politicians sign their names to the Treaty of Versailles something terrible happens at the end.  It is not an easy story to watch, but it reminds us that we should never forget.

My only critical comment about this series is that British actors with distinctive British accents also play the Germans in this movie. It detracts from the realism and would have been much better had they learned the accent for the role.  At times it feels as if it’s the British lads fighting British lads.  Otherwise, it’s realistically filmed and well acted.

Our World War (BBC Series 2014)

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5 Stars for Bravery

Yeah, yeah, I know most of you don’t like documentaries.  This one is a little bit different because it’s a well-acted re-enactment of three significant events for the British Army during World War I.  The episodes are based on written accounts by the soldiers who lived and survived to tell their stories and the men with which they served.

What can say about it? It’s emotional. It’s heartwrenching.  It’s shocking.  Well done, except for the oddity of the rock music in some of the scenes. The series actually puts you — the viewer — into the battles as if you were with the men and hearing the bullets whiz by your head.  The tension prior to and in engagement with the enemy is palpable. Perhaps that is why this program will undoubtedly leave an impression on you.  And if you lost distant cousins in the war like I did — six of them the ages of 18 to 42 — you will appreciate their sacrifice and you will draw closer to their memory as the young lads who served their country.

The first episode focuses on the first day that the British army encounters the German army in August 1914. Unprepared for the onslaught of Germans and their brutal advance, it’s difficult to watch the slaughter.  The second episode is about the Manchester Pals, as they called them, who served at Somme.  A few of my cousins were from Manchester.  The third episode is about the invention of the tank, and how the British turned the tide of the war toward victory by these new machines.

As a caution before you watch, you might find the lads extremely difficult to understand with the myriad of different British accidents, along with Irish and Scottish.  Hang in there and don’t surrender.  Keep calm and carry on through the end.

If you possess a soul, you might end up a bit tearful watching this series.  As the trailer says, “Modern warfare is brutal. 100 years ago it was unimaginable.”

Check it out – now streaming on Netflix. Read about the series at BBC. (Especially the pages of Interactive Episodes.)

The Promise (2017 Movie) Review

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Watching movies about the horrors of war in eras bygone are good reminders that the genocides of the past can repeat itself in the future. Whether humanity learns from its mistakes is yet to be seen. Even today there are no formal relations between Armenia and Turkey. To read about the brutality that this movie is based upon, visit Wikipedia.

This production shows a dark side to the Ottoman empire that attempted to eradicate the Armenian population. This movie is apparently released in a timely fashion since April 24 is the annual Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. It’s also showing at only a handful of theaters in my area.

To be upfront, the critics have gotten this one wrong. They seem to be focused upon the love triangle, which is part of the story. However, the underlying message is not only of love between a man a woman but also love of family, ethnicity, and sacrifice. There also appears to be accusations that the movie was “hijacked” by a choreographed effort to make it fail by groups opposed to its release and the bad light it sheds upon the past. To read about it and listen to an interview with the stars on CBS News. CLICK HERE.

Whether historically true or not, I’ll leave to others to determine that point. I can only say that The Promise is a powerful movie that is heartrending on many levels. I left the theater in tears and fight back tears as I write this review.

Christian Bale plays Chris Myers an American correspondent with the Associate Press in Turkey before World War I. He is in love, but not married, to an Armenian woman, Ana, played by Charlotte LeBon. Oscar Isaac plays Mikael Boghosian, a young man who wants to become a doctor. He becomes engaged to Maral and receives enough dowry money to go to Constantinople to medical school but is not in love with her. His promise is to return after two years of school and make her his wife.

When Mikael arrives and begins school, he meets Ana and Chris, her lover. It’s here that is-the-true-story-behind-christian-bale-and-oscar-isaac-s-the-promise-too-disturbing-to-acknowledgehe falls in love with her during a period when Ana struggles with some disenchantment over Chris’ behavior and their relationship. It breeds the perfect love triangle, but it is quickly torn asunder by the beginning of World War I and the Turkish government turning against Armenians.

Each of them go their separate ways during these turbulent times with Mikael suffering at the hands of the Turks. Chris Myers continues to report back to the remainder of the world the atrocities he has witnessed against the Armenians. The remainder of the story is the struggle that these three face, along with Mikael’s family and other Armenians who are slaughtered or fleeing for their lives. The movie ends on a very bittersweet note and by this time who gets the girl is an irrelevant point.

Oscar Isaac’s acting was superb throughout the movie as much of Mikael’s life is the main focus. Chris Myers’ character is not as likable but redeemable at the end as he puts his life on the line to save others. Of particular interest, were the small parts of important stars who showed up in this movie. Tom Hollander plays another prisoner of hard labor for a few short scenes. James Cromwell also appears for a short stint at the end as an US Ambassador. With only a few lines each, I thought it interesting that they decided to play in this feature.

Is the movie sad? Yes. Is the movie worth seeing? Yes. Why, you ask me, should you torture yourself? Because we need to remember that history contains more stories that many of us are not aware of in our lifetime. I was unaware of this part of history, which always leaves me wondering if, as a species on this planet earth, we will ever stop killing each other just because our neighbors are different in religion, color, or ethnic race.

The sad part of these genocides in history is that they are often swept under a rug, forgotten as years go by, denied altogether, and not considered relevant in spite of millions of innocent men, women, and children who were slaughtered just because they lived.  Another interesting article on the subject raises the question – is the true story too disturbing to acknowledge?

Ana, aptly states toward the end of the movie, “Our revenge will be to survive.” And the Armenians have survived as well as a few in this movie.

Another note, 100% of the proceeds of this film are going toward charity, which is commendable, to say the least.

Z: The Beginning of Everything (Amazon 2017)

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Ready for streaming on Amazon is another well-done series focusing on Zelda Sayre (played by Christina Ricci), the infamous wife of the renown author F. Scott Fitzgerald (played by David Hoflin). This version is based on a book, “Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald” by Therese Anne Fowler. Naturally, I’m fascinated by this story for a variety of reasons.

The period drama begins during World War I when Zelda meets the young and handsome would-be author about to go off to war.  Struggling with his first novel and dealing with rejections, he quickly falls for the southern sweetie with a mind of her own. Zelda, to her father’s disappointment, is not the obedient young daughter he desires, but rather one who is out and about drinking and carousing with the boys in town. She wants to leave the dull southern life and see the lights of the big cities.

Her romance with Fitzgerald is quickly ignited, but he leaves for war. They write and keep in touch, and even after his return to New York, they continue to correspond. When his first book is finally published, “This Side of Paradise,” Fitzgerald is riding high on royalties, and Zelda comes to New York. They quickly marry, and she is drawn into the author’s world of booze and non-stop parties. At first, she struggles to fit in with his friends but remakes herself into the roaring twenties hot flapper that made a name for herself as Fitzgerald’s wife.

The series is well paced, though a bit slow in the beginning as you are introduced to Zelda’s world and family. Ricci has a thick-as-syrup southern accent.  At times she appears physically plain and unattractive, but as she morphs into the daring young lady at her husband’s side in New York City, she gains the attention of everyone, including the press.

If you have ever read about either of their lives, they both had sad endings.  LIFE SPOILER:  Zelda was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent her last years in an asylum where she died in a fire. Fitzgerald, a heavy drinker all of his life, ruined his health with booze, and he dropped dead of a heart attack. Eventually, their marriage ended on the rocks with both having affairs.  Nevertheless, it’s an interesting peek into the lives of a well-known couple who rode the waves of high success because of Fitzgerald’s literary fame. It’s worth the watch and will continue beyond Season One.

While watching Z, I will admit that I am more fascinated with F. Scott Fitzgerald than with Zelda. The story also shows this great author’s extreme weakness and lack of confidence. I am reminded of a quote that Robert DeNiro gave at the Oscars in 2014 introducing the screenplay category.  It’s spot on for some of the greats like Fitzgerald and Hemmingway who struggled with demons and booze in spite of their brilliance.

“The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination, consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.”

As an author, I’ve never striven to be famous. Instead, I enjoy writing stories for the sheer enjoyment because I cannot stop the addiction. Being single and alone, it also saves me from becoming a cat lady, hoarding junk, and never going out of doors. (Although I do tend to hibernate more than I should on weekends.) As far as the caffeine, procrastination, panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing inadequacy, I totally relate but stay away from the booze.

V for Vicki

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