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  • Writer's pictureEllen Cheshire

War on Film

Updated: May 5, 2023

Is it any surprise that Darkest Hour (2017) is doing better at the Box Office and in Award Ceremonies than Churchill (2017). Darkest Hour starring Gary Oldman depicts the Churchill of popular national memory, the Churchill who won the war. Whereas Churchill starring Brian Cox offered a far more complex and somewhat conflicting depiction of Churchill.

In general, films that offer a critical view of World War Two do not fare to well at the Box office.

1953 American studio Columbia released From Here to Eternity, based on James Jones’s novel, which offered a critical look at Pearl Harbour depicting barracks brutality, sexual and rank tensions and the ill-preparedness of the US military. The film was not well received at the Box office with cinemagoers deeming it too raw and too soon. (It did, however, go on to win and be nominated at a number of Award ceremonies.) They, like Britain, wanted films that glorified their victory over Japan, not one that alluded to failure. The film, even today, is remembered now for its erotic roll in the sand (between Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster) rather than its battle sequences and brutal bullying.

Compare this to a British film from around the same time. Ten years after the end of the war, Britain is still rolling out morale boosting fare with Michael Anderson’s The Dam Busters (1955), an example of conventional heroism based on the true story of Barnes Willis (Michael Redgrave) the man who developed the bouncing bomb and Guy Gibson (Richard Todd) the pilot who led the raid. Here, all reference to Gibson’s drinking and womanising were eradicated and the film failed to mention that although the raids were successful the dams were soon repaired and the casualty rate was high: ten out of the nineteen planes were lost, 56 of the 133 men killed. This was a box office hit, and remains so to this day.

As you may know, I do love a bio-pic, so much so I wrote a book on them! You can snap up a copy of Bio-Pics: a life in pictures here.

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