Category: WWI

1917 (Movie 2019)

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1917 is a winner and must-see movie of 2019. It’s a World War I story of two soldiers, Lance Cpl Schofield and Lance Cpl. Blake. Summoned from a sleepy moment in a grassy field, they are tasked by their commanding officer and given new orders. They must cross enemy territory and deliver a message of utmost importance.  If they fail, the lives of sixteen hundred men are at stake, including the brother of Lance Cpl. Blake.

The film is a masterpiece of cinematography, musical score, and acting that grips the audience from the moment the orders are received until they are miraculously delivered, averting a catastrophe. Directed by Sam Mendes, the film deserves its recent Golden Globe awards and no doubt soon to be received Oscars. There are cameo appearances from Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Madden, Mark Strong, and a host of other famous faces that may surprise you. Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay play to two servicemen in an outstanding performance that must have been grueling and physically challenging to film.

The filming of the show gives the audience a unique perspective as the crew unendingly follows the two men, attempting to deliver a message. You feel as if you’re running through trenches, walking in mud, crawling in mud, climbing over dead bodies, and dodging enemy bullets. Some of the scenes are so eerily portrayed, such as nighttime in a destroyed city with flares bursting overhead, that it keeps you in awe of the screen. The musical score is also riveting and so well done. Of course, there is death all around.  Young men killed in the prime of their lives. A war that some don’t understand why they are fighting. The movie tells it like it was, and reminds us that even today they are still discovering bodies buried in the mud of Belgium and France.

Highly recommend the film. As of writing this post, it has won:

  • Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture
  • Golden Globe Award for Best Director
  • Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Director
  • Critics’ Choice Award for Best Editing
  • Critics’ Choice Award for Best Cinematography
  • Satellite Award for Best Cinematography
  • Producers Guild of Ameria Award for Best Theatrical Motion Picture

If you would like to read more about the making of the film, visit ScreenRant.Com.  Also, this YouTube video with these behind-the-scene shots.


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 420,000 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

Upstairs Downstairs (TV Series 2010-2012)

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I watched this series this past weekend, and though some of it seemed familiar, I’m not sure I’ve seen all of the episodes before.  Nevertheless, I was able to enjoy it through fresh eyes unaware of much of the storyline.

Having not seen the original Upstairs Downstairs (the 1971 series set in the years 1903-1930), this version picks up in the mid-1930’s and continues pre-WW2 at the same location of 165 Eaton Place in the Belgravia neighborhood.  The master of the estate is Sir Hallam Holland (as I take a moment to relish the last name) and Lady Agnes who purchases the “ghastly old mausoleum” by cleaning and renovating the run-down interior.

Lady Agnes hires a new staff and Rose Buck (Jean Marsh who played in the 1971 series) returns as the housekeeper.  Much like Downton Abbey, including an opening scene during the credits of the shiny chandelier, the story follows life upstairs and downstairs.  Sir Hallam is a diplomat, and his wife lives to run the household and be a hostess to high society on London’s scene.  As the years go by such famous people as the Duke of Kent, Wallis Simpson, the Kennedys from the U.S., and other royalty eat at their table.  Upstairs has its problems, of course, mostly centered around an out-of-control Lady Persephone, who is Lady Agnes’ sister.

Downstairs is the usual love/hate relationship between the staff.  The main focus is on the butler, housekeeper, cook, housemaid, footman, parlormaid, and chauffeur. Their secrets from the past often irritate and cause friction, much like Downton Abbey, while they live to serve the somewhat dysfunctional family upstairs.

The story is set pre-war and includes King Edward VIII’s abdication, and the numerous attempts to avoid war with Germany.  The first two seasons lead the audience through the years with interest, along with heart-wrenching scenes as England steps up to help the Jewish children fleeing the rising persecution of Jews. A little family scandal of an aunt being a lesbian causes a stir, as well as Persephone’s attraction and affair with a German officer.  Watching London prepare for a war they hope to avoid, helps to underscore the wounds that still abide from WWI and the fear of another looming on the horizon.

The cast is strong, the costumes well done, and the flavor of the 1930’s resonates throughout. Keeley Hawes who plays Lady Agnes is beautiful, as well as Claire Foy, her sister. Red lipstick, silk dresses, and wavy hair make them both stunningly gorgeous. Ed Stoppard, who plays Sir Hallam Holland, has the right uppity air for an aristocrat who is too busy to keep his marriage afloat. Downstairs you’ll quickly recognize Anne Reid as the cook, who plays in Last Tango in Halifax. She has the usual rough snippy edges about her personality. All in all, I found no complaint in the acting.

Season two, unfortunately, quickly ends in family tragedy for the Hollands.  War is declared, and everyone takes their part to do their duty.  Sir Holland is in uniform at the closing scene heading off probably to the war office, as well as his wife is in uniform telling her children she is off to help in the ambulance corps.  Unfortunately, the story ends here, but your interedownstairsst in each of their lives is not satisfied or brought to a happy ending especially when you know of the horrors that lie ahead for London.  As they march off to war, the audience is left with the uncertainty of what it will bring to each of the characters and leaves a very unsatisfying taste with no closure. From what I read, Season One had a booming audience, while Season Two slowly dwindled probably leading to its death.

You will see many similarities with Downton Abbey in this up and down tale of life for the upper and lower class.  It’s definitely not as good as others but, nevertheless, it’s worth the watch if you’re looking for the similar scenario filmed prior to the infamous Julian Fellowes’ soap opera regarding the Crawley family.  It’s now streaming on Hulu and available on Amazon Prime for free with the first episode The Fledgling

Testament of Youth (Movie 2014)

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Stars:  Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Taron Egerton

Let me be very clear.  This is NOT a happy movie.  If you are looking for an uplifting story, keep looking.  This is a movie about the reality of war.  It’s a deeply moving movie that frankly, if you have any heart at all, will rip your emotions to shreds.

Those of us who have not experienced the horrors or the loss of love ones in wars might come away unmoved or bored by this flick.  However, when I recently read this week that many young English citizens know very little about the World War I, it becomes a sad testament to today’s youth.  We should remind ourselves of the horrors of war as a deterrent, however, humanity has never taken the message seriously so frankly I think we’ve learned nothing.

Clearly the attitudes of the youths in the early 20th century compared to those in the 21st century are vastly different.  As they left for the fields of France or wherever they served, they certainly had no comprehension of what they would face in the trenches.  Seventeen million people perished in this war, and it’s not just the brave men who fought.  It’s a sad commentary that the best of youth died, as this movie dramatically shows.  What becomes of those who were left behind such as lovers, wives, mothers, fathers, and friends, is no less devastating as unbearable grief results.

I have distant English cousins who perished in the great war. One young man died in Turkey and the other in Belgium. Watching this movie brings to mind their sacrifice and the sorrow my ancestors must have felt when that terrible news arrived of their deaths.

Perhaps the movie itself is not the Oscar-type, but it is the reality type.  It’s well acted, though may be somewhat slow as the story progresses into the war.  If you don’t like to watch the horror of broken bodies, blood, death, and suffering, then you may find some scenes difficult.

If anything, this movie is indeed a testament of youth, loyalty, bravery, and a will to continue living so that the memory of those who died continues to live as well.

May we never forget.

Parade’s End (BBC/HBO 2012)

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HBO/BBC Television Series (2012)

Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch (yes, that’s his full name) has been busy. Between filming episodes of Sherlock Holmes, he worked elsewhere starring in this interesting and entertaining series entitled Parade’s End. The story is based on a series of novels by Ford Maddox Ford.

Benedict plays the character of Christopher Tietjens in five episodes. After one indiscretion, his life takes an unexpected turn when he meets a woman on a train. She seduces him, and they end up copulating quite wildly in their private quarters.  He deposits his seed into Sylvia on a one-train stand and ends up marrying her after she declares the child in her pregnant womb belongs to him. The entire affair is questionable because of her many lovers, but Christoper does what he does best–the right and proper thing.

He is not a man that is necessarily well liked and is socially awkward.  The relationship with his family members is poor, he’s the object of gossip, and appears to have trouble communicating his feelings.  However, he is intelligent, and works at the Imperial Department of Statistics crunching numbers.  In his spare time, he reads the encyclopedia and jots down corrections to the content in the sidelines of the book.

Sylvia, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. She’s not exactly the stellar wife. To her shame she parties, flirts with men, and ends up having an extramarital affair.  She blames her motives for living on the wild side on Christopher, who is the picture of perfection. She loathes him and his values, and is determined to destroy him one way or the other. In fact, she seems to treat all her men with disdain. When she leaves Christoper for another man because she’s bored, abandoning even her son, Christopher keeps the proverbial stiff upper lip and parades before society, friends, and family that all is well.  He refuses to divorce, because he’s a good Catholic. You just don’t do those things.  You bear it.  Live with it.  And parade onward.

However, during his wife’s escapades with another man, Christopher meets Valentine Wannop, played by Adelaide Clemens. She is young, intelligent, and a suffragette. It’s one of those love at first sight moments for the two of them. Unfortunately, he’s too proper to do anything about it even though they keep running into each other exchanging heartfelt glances and having pleasant conversation. When they are not in each other presence, they daydream of being lovers, but Christopher cannot cross that line.

Eventually, Sylvia returns to Christopher, after having a spot of remorse. She turns to religion, though you don’t believe there’s an ounce of purity in her conniving mind.

World War I breaks out, and the series takes a diversion toward wartime and life in the trenches. However, during this period of time, Christopher begins to change for the better. He becomes a stronger man who leads, and finally realizes that times are changing. It’s no longer necessary to parade around as if life is peachy and all can be handled. The parade has ended, and he needs to do what is right for him as an individual–even if that means making immoral choices in order to find love and happiness.

It’s a fairly good series, and you’ll find that Benedict is not the Sherlock Holmes you know. The portrayal of this character is vastly different, but also extremely convincing and well done. He looks rather dashing in his military uniform with blond hair.  You’ll also enjoy the Edwardian fashions worn by Sylvia, the manipulating wife.

Parade’s End is streaming on Amazon Prime for free.  You might want to check it out. Only negative point is that I don’t seem to be the only one complaining that you cannot understand what is being said about 10% of the time.  Sometimes Benedict talks very fast, and it’s difficult to catch the words with that thick British accent.  On the other hand, it just might be poor sound quality on behalf of the producers of this film.

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