More than three-quarters of a century after it ended, the Second World War still proves to be a seemingly inexhaustible supply of inspiration for film and TV makers. The past three years alone have seen the release of Midway (2019), Rolan Emmerich’s epic about the most famous battle of the Pacific theater; Greyhound (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 Operation Mincemeata Colin Firth vehicle about a vast deception plan carried out by British intelligence that successfully fooled Hitler into thinking the Allies were going to invade Greece in the summer of 1943 rather than Italy. The latter is being released on Netflix later this week.
However, such big-budget productions are just the tip of the iceberg. Here are three World War Two films that hit the screens in the 2020s, proving there are still compelling war stories left to be told. Even without a blockbuster budget.
French Biopic De Gaulle Is An Underrated Gem
The film stars Lambert Wilson, an actor best known to English-speaking film audiences for his arch performances as the Merovingian in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions (both 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 aftermath.
Fresh from a valiant but futile attempt to hold off the rapidly advancing Germans, de Gaulle found himself desperately trying to secure British support against the Nazi onslaught. This culminated in the formulation of a scheme to unify the United Kingdom and France. It was a farfetched-sounding plan that was actually put forward in real life and accepted by Winston Churchill, only for a French government eager to placate the Germans to nix the plan. France fell, and de Gaulle fled to London, where he became the unlikely leader of the Free French Army and a figurehead of the French resistance.
Like many wartime leaders, de Gaulle was not the perfect statesman, but Wilson’s deft portrayal offers a sympathetic take on the general while steering clear of naked hagiography. De Gaulle’s devotion to his family, particularly his youngest daughter Anne, who suffered from Down’s syndrome at a time when therapies for such conditions were rudimentary, is tenderly depicted.
With an able supporting cast including Cesar Award-winning actor 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 it is possible to still prevail.
The Auschwitz Report Tells a Brutal Yet Important Story
Selected as the Slovak entry for last year’s Oscars, The Auschwitz Report tells the story of Rudolf Vrba and Alfréd Wetzler, two Slovakian Jews held at the Auschwitz concentration camp during the war. In April 1944, they escaped and traveled across the country for several weeks, evading capture before arriving in Slovakia. The pair wrote or dictated the Vrba-Wetzler report, one of the first substantial accounts of the atrocities being carried out at Auschwitz to come to the attention of the Allies.
The film’s unflinching depiction of the bestial behavior of the Nazis who routinely brutalized and tortured the camp’s inmates makes for harrowing viewing. Peter Bebjak’s spare direction, complemented by excellent performances in the lead roles by Noel Czuczor and Peter Ondrejička, as well as supporting turns from John Hannah (Agents of SHIELD) and Florian Panzner (Conspiracy, Valkyrie), make The Auschwitz Report a compelling piece of contemporary cinema.
The Forgotten Battle Earned Its High Praise
Released last October on Netflix, The Forgotten Battle is one of the most expensive Dutch films ever made. Starring Daytime Emmy-nominated Gijs Blom (The Letter for the King) and Harry Potter alum Tom Felton, the film concerns the intertwining stories of several individuals fighting in the Netherlands in the weeks after the D-Day landings. Blom plays Marinus, a Dutchman whose decision to volunteer for service in the Waffen SS brings him into direct conflict with the resistance members trying to hasten the Allied takeover of the country. The B-plot concerns the plight of an Allied glider crew when their glider crash-lands behind enemy lines with British Captain Turner (Felton) on board.
The Forgotten Battle breaks new ground, concentrating on a largely neglected aspect of the war on the western front in the weeks and months after the liberation of Paris. The film is characterized by tight plotting, stylish cinematography, and a wealth of good work by the principals, with Felton’s performance being singled out for particular praise. It comes as no surprise to find the film is almost universally lauded by critics and enjoys a rare 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
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