Tag Archives: War

Hacksaw Ridge

There are many questions you can ask after watching Hacksaw Ridge, the true story about the man who refused to carry a rifle in WWII and who saved countless soldiers’ lives, and was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Did it have to be so violent, and did it have to show quite so many dead and maimed soldiers? In this instance less would definitely have been more. Besides, you see less of the film if you have to look away a lot of the time.

Hacksaw Ridge

Did we really need to have parts like ‘corpse with rats #4’ on the cast list?

Couldn’t it have been clearer about when the earlier parts were set? We had to look it up, to ‘unconfuse’ ourselves.

And might it have been better to stick to what surely must have been rules back in the 1940s, like did nurses have long flowing hair on duty?

But the main question must be, if Desmond Doss was able to save 75 wounded soldiers at Okinawa, through sheer determination; how many unnecessary soldier deaths have there been in all other battles before and after?

I am not wanting to complain that others have not done what he did. You need a strong character and plenty of courage to achieve even a fraction of what Doss managed. But seeing that he could return out on to the battle field over and over again, and come back with more and more wounded comrades; how many half dead soldiers do armies leave behind everywhere?

Dame Vera Lynn: Happy 100th Birthday!

Dame Vera Lynn: Happy 100th Birthday!

It was the old soldiers who made the programme. No matter how much fun it is to hear famous people say lovely things about our Vera Lynn on the occasion of her 100th birthday (Wow!), it was the men who fought in WWII, and who are still with us, like Vera, who started the waterworks, both on me and on themselves.

Hearing Vera discuss the past with her daughter was almost like hearing any mother and daughter pair hark back in time. And that’s good in itself, as it proves how normal she still manages to be. Dame and the forces’ sweetheart she may be, but deep down Vera Lynn comes across like that aunt from east London I never had.

The music specialists had much nice to say, as did those famous people dug up to talk. Odd in a way to have Paul McCartney sit there as though he personally remembered listening to Vera on the radio during the war. Maybe he did.

But as I said, the old soldiers, reminiscing about hearing Vera live somewhere in Burma, or on the radio, and crying at the memories; that’s what made this programme. Telling their own stories, and singing along to We’ll Meet Again, before finally wishing their star a happy 100th. There’s not many of them left.

(Photo © BBC)

The Saboteurs – Kampen om tungtvannet

It’s OK, this new Norwegian television drama about heavy water. So far it’s not as earth-shattering as I was led to believe it’d be, but still fine. The thing is, it’s hard to beat an old Hollywood movie that manages to be fantastic entertainment while still being a bit OTT and not entirely true to reality. But at least this one does not star an unlikely Kirk Douglas.

I don’t know how many people in Britain knew about this incident from WWII before the More4 screening of this big hit from Norway. In fact, I wonder how many Norwegians knew about it. If you’re older you will know, if only because you will have seen The Heroes of Telemark with Mr Douglas. I learned about it at school. It was a school radio programme, complete with leaflet to read, and interviews with the real people involved, who were still quite young, and perfectly alive, in the 1960s. I gather at least one of them still is. You live longer in Norway. Must be all that skiing.

Kampen om tungtvannet

What I like about The Saboteurs, which is a shared production between Norway, Denmark and Britain, is that it covers everyone. The Germans are not merely the bad guys who are going to have that heavy water, no matter what. We see the – slightly mad – scientists, who live for their science. The bosses of Norsk Hydro are quite German-friendly, which comes as a bit of a shock.

There is the slightly unnatural way everyone can chat to each other when they meet, in perfect English or German, but at least we see them ‘at home’ so to speak. It’s obvious that the settings described as London or Scotland are neither, but they try. Rjukan is Rjukan, however, and that snow looks geniune enough.

Two episodes in, I look forward to the rest. If the ending to the second episode had been fiction, you’d have accused the scriptwriters of being over-fanciful.

Woman in Gold

What surprised me the most about Woman in Gold was how much it was about the war. That might sound stupid, but I’d mainly thought about the process of getting a stolen work of art back now, long after the war. And the trailer had been mostly lighthearted, with clever and amusing lines.

Woman in Gold

Don’t misunderstand me; I believe the film was better for all its background, reminding us – and in the case of Daughter, showing for the first time – of what went on in Austria not only during the war, but before it as well. Without it, Maria Altmann could have seemed to be simply greedy and grabbing. In a way this was one of those occasions when you feel that both sides are both right and wrong. Were it not for the fact that Austria took away Maria’s right to the life she was living, when they pulled the rug out from under her feet. As I think she said, it wasn’t so much getting the painting of her aunt back, as getting some recompense for what they did to her family, breaking it up, and killing most of them.

Woman in Gold

I had looked forward to seeing more of Vienna, but in the end it was almost painful. I appreciated seeing the old Vienna, as Maria knew it when she grew up. I’m not Austrian, nor quite that old, but I could recognise some of the life she lived.

Had not realised that Daughter didn’t know what the outcome was going to be, but then it had been some years since we read about Maria and her Klimt painting in the news.

Woman in Gold

I enjoyed Woman in Gold, and more so for it being so European, and not just Hollywood gloss. Helen Mirren can do anything she puts her mind to, and Ryan Reynolds was a lovely Randol Schoenberg. Good to see so many actors employed who are not necessarily English language household names, but who were able to portray Austrians in a believable way.

Ambassadors

It’s been a busy week. As Bookwitch I’ve travelled to Edinburgh three days running. Were it not for that, I’d have attempted to get myself invited to the Grandmother’s neighbour’s flat last Thursday.

This 98-year-old gentleman was about to be visited by the Russian Ambassador, and he had asked the Grandmother to be present. I believe there was some medal that was to be handed over to the neighbour, and at first I thought it unlikely that the real Ambassador would make a house call like that.

But then I remembered that when I was about 16, the then Soviet Ambassador called in at my school. That seemed quite natural at the time, so why not now, if an elderly man was to be honoured?

And only hours before this medal presentation, I managed to squeeze in the week’s NCIS, before dropping off with exhaustion. OK, so they shouldn’t say bad or fictional things about a real Russian Ambassador, which I assume is why they have someone slightly more junior as a recurring sometimes bad and sometimes good character.

But I think of him as the Ambassador, and I’m sure he was referred to as such in one of this season’s episodes. I might have to watch again, just to check. (I’ve been trying to, actually. Just seem to run out of time, which is why I am barely halfway through my private repeats.)

The Imitation Game

I was glad to see they still offered screenings of The Imitation Game this week. I’d stopped being too busy and I’d also decided to temporarily pause my Keira Knightley boycott and actually go and see this film about Alan Turing. I was a afraid it’d be as upsetting as the television programme a while back, but it was more uplifting than depressing, despite poor Turing’s fate.

The Imitation Game

There were things about Bletchley and Enigma I hadn’t actually known before, and it was good to see the story in a different light from the last ones. Benedict Cumberbatch was spot on as Alan Turing. Most of the time. They’d done a fine job of getting the aspie aspects of his personality right, except for when they hadn’t.

You don’t have someone as literal as that, and then make them reply to a heavy bit of sarcasm as though they are neurotypical. I also suspect that Benedict is a capable dancer, and I wouldn’t expect Turing to have been. He was reluctant for a reason. And all that hugging!

The Imitation Game

Nice to have both Allen Leech and Matthew Goode in there, but making them mathematical geniuses is stretching credibility somewhat. Even KK made for a likelier mathematician.

The Imitation Game

Alex Lawther was fabulous as the young Turing; giving us a perfect background to understand where he was coming from.

Very touching, and the kind of film I would see again.

(Just don’t get me started on the train rolling stock…)

Foyle’s curse?

We looked forward to the start of the new ‘season’ of Foyle’s War on Sunday. And the beginning was fine, and we enjoyed ourselves. But at the halfway point the signal disappeared and there was no more for us to watch.

After some frantic investigating we determined it wasn’t our fault. There simply was no signal, but it seems it might have been localised enough that ITV/STV had no interest in being decent about it.

Daughter and I switched to more bingeing on Downton Abbey instead, refusing to let this get us down. But it slowly came back to me, that we have experienced this with Foyle before. In Sweden. Half a programme went missing then, too. Is the man cursed?

We thought we’d watch it on ITV-player. That didn’t work. Eventually we were informed by the younger generation that we needed STV-player, and after too many commercials, we eventually watched, 24 hours later. I say watched, but after ten minutes it broke.

After more faffing about I felt I didn’t have enough interest in Foyle’s pursuits to warrant trying any longer. But the Resident IT Consultant wanted to watch until the bitter end, so we repaired to his desk, where we watched on the computer.

It was OK, -ish. But I’m not sure if I can be bothered next Sunday.

The Railway Man

How can a family of railway lovers not go and see The Railway Man? Even after being warned off by people that the torture scenes are so horrific as to make it unbearable.

The Railway Man

We were charmed by Colin Firth’s wooing of Nicole Kidman (I had feared she’d be too glamourous for the part, but she was fine) at the beginning of the film, in spite of the stations and railway lines and the rolling stock being ‘a bit wrong.’ It was all done in good faith. (But the bit with the guard saying Colin was on the wrong train was too much 21st century. They didn’t go in for that kind of thing back then.)

Somewhere in the middle, when it was – mentally – dark, and slow and very depressing, with little hope for improvement, I wondered what we were doing. The scenes showing Jeremy Irvine as the young Lomax during the war, as a Japanese prisoner, told me why we were there. It was good. Not fast paced action, nor enjoyable. But good. Stuff you need to see.

The torture was bad. But it was expected and it was once done for real, and it was nowhere near as awful as you get in some of those fun action films people don’t mind watching.

The Railway Man

Despite knowing the outcome, having read about Eric Lomax, it almost came as a surprise. Low key and quietly unassuming, this was an excellent film. And for all its awfulness, we found ourselves surprisingly cheery as we compared notes afterwards. That’s probably why you should see The Railway Man.

Suitcase

After a while I became afraid I’d lose ‘my group’ as we walked round Piccadilly station in Manchester yesterday. Despite the fact I know the station well, I could begin to understand the anxiety the children of the Kindertransport must have felt on arriving in Britain.

Suitcase - Hanni

It began with me feeling anxious I wouldn’t be allowed on ‘the journey’ because I’d booked too late and every place was already spoken for. And all I wanted was to watch a drama; not to save my life.

I became aware of the production of Suitcase only a couple of weeks ago, as it was about to premiere at Glasgow Central. A crowd-funded drama about the Kindertransport, it was free and it was coming to a railway station near me. Or you. I felt despondent when I realised my only opportunity of seeing it was on my way to Scotland, as I passed through Piccadilly. And then I couldn’t get a ticket!

A very kind person suggested I call at the ‘box office’ (a suitcase, actually) for returns, and I did, and then I was shunted aside and had to wait and that’s when my anxiety levels rose. Just like a refugee. But then the suitcase lady handed me my own numbered label and gave me permission to join the blue group.

Only an idiot like me would go to a promenade theatre performance wheeling a suitcase round with them. But that’s what I did. It seemed almost appropriate, although the superior – and nasty – English lady having tea frowned at it for being red. (And before you are up in arms over my rudeness; this woman was an actor, showing us how some British people didn’t want the refugees.)

Suitcase - English lady

We started under the escalators, where we witnessed the children’s tearful goodbyes, as well as their arrival here, being serenaded with cheery songs. At times the noise and bustle of normal station activities almost drowned out what the actors were saying, but that too fitted in with what it must have been like back then.

Suitcase - Railway porter

As we shuffled between various corners of the station for more intimate sketches with one or two people, refugees, host families, fundraisers and volunteers, it felt as if the real passengers at Piccadilly didn’t really notice us. Rather like it might have been for the original children.

Suitcase - Czech boy and host's daughter

There was the Czech boy who begged us to find work for his clever mother. The railway porter who collected money for the refugees. We met a sister and brother, arguing like siblings do, before they were separated forever. The boy was desperate for the toilet, but they were in a new and strange place.

Suitcase - Kurt

My suitcase lady who objected to the workshy foreigners coming here and ruining things for the English. The couple who ‘knew’ they were getting a young boy, but ended up with a much older girl. Who didn’t even speak English!

Suitcase - volunteer

The volunteer organiser, trying to keep track of everyone, and wondering what to do with the leftover children no one wanted. And at the end, the children writing home, and reading letters from their parents, exhorting them to behave. When the letters stopped coming.

Here one lady had to be led away on a friendly arm. It could easily be too much for anyone. I felt like crying, and my country wasn’t even in the war.

Most of the children assimilated eventually. But Kurt, the one who needed the toilet, never got over the loss of his sister, of having to be grateful all the time, and being passed round lots of families. Heartbreaking.

Suitcase - red

There was music, and there was dancing. They even offered round baskets of doughnuts at the end. And I picked up my suitcase and went to find a train, still wearing my label. I’m so grateful I was allowed to join in.

(Shared with Bookwitch)

30 años de oscuridad

Maybe now is the time to look back at Spain under Franco. Currently there seems to be more about this period than I can ever recall seeing. We knew about the oppression, but it is easy for the outsider to forget. Today Spain is like any other modern European country.

30 años de oscuridad

But until 1969 it didn’t let go of the civil war or the repercussions it still meted out to those on the wrong side. In most wars, once it’s over, it’s over, and even the losing side has rights. The Spanish Reds (i.e. anyone not on Franco’s side) didn’t.

30 años de oscuridad is a film that will hopefully remind those of us who forgot. It’s about the people who hid after the civil war ended. It’s about what it’s like to hide for thirty years. What it’s like for the families of the ‘moles’ and the ever present fear of discovery. Your friends and neighbours would give you away to save themselves.

30 años de oscuridad

The film is based on a book written about these people, and mainly about the mayor of Mijas, Manuel Cortés, and it’s part ‘interview’ and part animation. The moles are dead now, but their children and grandchildren remember them. Tremendous film, hardhitting, and if you haven’t come across a garrote before, you can count yourself lucky.

30 años de oscuridad

30 Years of Darkness is on at Cornerhouse on March 12th and 23rd as part of the ¡Viva! film festival.