More than three-quarters of a century after its end, the Second World War still proves to be a seemingly inexhaustible source of inspiration for filmmakers and television directors. The last three years alone have seen the release of Half-way (2019), Rolan Emmerich’s epic about the most famous battle in the Pacific theater; doggy style (2020), an Aaron Schneider film starring Tom Hanks as an American submarine captain during the Battle of the Atlantic (a sequel is in the works); and last year’s Ground Meat Operation, a vehicle of Colin Firth on a grand scheme of deception carried out by British intelligence that succeeded in tricking Hitler into believing that the Allies were going to invade Greece in the summer of 1943 rather than Italy. The latter is streaming on Netflix later this week.
However, these big budget productions are just the tip of the iceberg. Here are three WWII films that hit screens in the 2020s, proving there are still compelling war stories to be told. Even without a huge budget.
French biopic De Gaulle is an underrated gem
The film stars Lambert Wilson, an actor best known to English-speaking audiences for his outstanding performances as a Merovingian in The Matrix Reloaded and The matrix revolutions (both in 2003), and his turn opposite Vin Diesel in Babylon AD.(2008). Wilson plays General Charles de Gaulle. The film tells the story of the Battle of France in the summer of 1940 and its consequences.
Fresh out of a valiant but futile attempt to hold off the rapidly advancing Germans, de Gaulle found himself desperately trying to gain British support against the Nazi onslaught. This resulted in the formulation of a plan for the unification of the United Kingdom and France. It was a crazy plan which was actually featured in real life and accepted by Winston Churchill, only for a French government eager to appease the Germans to cancel the plan. France fell and de Gaulle fled to London, where he became the unlikely leader of the Free French Army and a leading figure in the French resistance.
Like many wartime leaders, de Gaulle was not the perfect statesman, but Wilson’s deft portrayal offers a sympathetic view of the general while avoiding naked hagiography. De Gaulle’s devotion to his family, especially his youngest daughter Anne, who suffered from Down’s syndrome at a time when therapies for such conditions were rudimentary, is tenderly portrayed.
With a capable supporting cast, including César Award-winning actress Isabelle Carré as de Gaulle’s wife Yvonne and Tim Hudson (A very English scandal) as Churchill, the film offers an interesting take on the meaning of defeat – and the belief that winning is still possible.
The Auschwitz Report Tells a Brutal But Important Story
Selected as the Slovak entry for last year’s Oscars, The Auschwitz Report tells the story of Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, two Slovak Jews held in the Auschwitz concentration camp during the war. In April 1944, they escaped and roamed the country for several weeks, avoiding capture before arriving in Slovakia. The couple wrote or dictated the Vrba-Wetzler report, one of the first substantial accounts of atrocities at Auschwitz to come to the attention of the Allies.
The film’s unflinching depiction of the beastly behavior of the Nazis who routinely brutalized and tortured camp inmates makes for heartbreaking viewing. Spare direction from Peter Bebjak, complemented by excellent performances in the lead roles from Noel Czuczor and Peter Ondrejička, as well as supporting turns from John Hannah (Agents of SHIELD) and Florian Panzner (Conspiracy, Valkyrie), Craft The Auschwitz Report a fascinating piece of contemporary cinema.
The Forgotten Battle has earned its praise
Released last October on Netflix, The Forgotten Battle is one of the most expensive Dutch films ever made. With Daytime Emmy nominee Gijs Blom (The letter for the king) and Harry Potter alum Tom Felton, the film tells the intertwining stories of several individuals fighting in the Netherlands in the weeks following the D-Day landings. Blom plays Marinus, a Dutchman whose decision to volunteer for service in the Waffen SS puts him in direct conflict with members of the resistance who are trying to hasten the Allied takeover of the country. Plot B concerns the fate of an Allied glider crew when their glider crashes behind enemy lines with British Captain Turner (Felton) on board.
The Forgotten Battle breaks new ground by focusing on a largely overlooked aspect of the war on the Western Front in the weeks and months following the liberation of Paris. The film is characterized by a tight plot, elegant cinematography and a wealth of good work by the principals, with Felton’s performance singled out for special praise. It’s no surprise that the film is almost universally acclaimed by critics and boasts a rare 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
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