Sam Mendes' 1917 has been wowing viewers and critics alike and has been gaining a ton of momentum heading into the Awards season. The one-shot epic tells the story of two British soldiers tasked with hand-delivering a message to the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, to warn them of an ambush planned by the German forces and call off the attack. Sometimes harrowing, always cinematic, 1917 also shines the spotlight on a sometimes overlooked setting: World War I. Often passed over in favour of the second world war that followed, the period still has plenty of stories to offer. These are some of the best.
The Sentimental Flick: War Horse (2011)
Helmed by Steven Spielberg, this movie is an adaptation of the 2007 stage play (which is itself an adaptation of the 1982 book by Michael Morpurgo). The film primarily revolves around Albert (Jeremy Irvine) and his horse that he's raised: Joey, a thoroughbred that's purchased by the British Army for the conflict. Through the eyes of Joey, we visit the various battlegrounds and see him pass through the hands of many different owners.
The movie really manages to capture the sheer number of horses that were involved in the war, and the horrors of the trench warfare of No Man's Land. In addition to being a technical masterpiece, it's one of Spielberg's most sentimental movies, which any Spielberg fan will be able to appreciate.
The Recreation: They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
Featuring restored footage of over 100 hours from the Imperial War Museum's archives, Peter Jackson crafts a unique cinematic creation. Together with interviews from the BBC, Jackson brings figures of the past back to life. Unlike most war documentaries, which usually focus on the sound and fury of battle, They Shall Not Grow Old takes us through the war from the eyes of the soldiers. The interviews reveal candid details: some men enjoyed the war and found purpose, while some would rather not talk about it much more. It's truly a film that captures the loss of innocence and the sacrifice of an entire generation of young men.
The View from Australia: The Water Diviner (2015)
Russell Crowe's directorial debut, loosely based on the book of the same name written by Andrew Anastasios and Dr Meaghan Wilson-Anastasios, tells the story of an Australian farmer, Joshua Connor (Crowe). His three sons are presumed dead in the Battle of Gallipoli. After his wife commits suicide, Connor goes to Turkey to find the bodies of his three sons to bury them with their mother.
The film focuses on the futility of war and the universal heartbreak of losing a child to the horrors and provides the context of Australia and New Zealand's contributions towards the war effort.
The Uncompromising View: The White Ribbon (2009)
Set just before World War I, The White Ribbon takes place in a small German Village. A baron (Ulrich Tukur), a doctor (Rainer Bock) and a pastor (Burghart Klaussner) use their social status and harsh punishments to rule with an iron fist over a small German village. The village is thrown into chaos when the doctor falls off his horse after it trips over a wire strung between two trees. Soon, more accidents of a similar nature follow, seemingly without reason, all to the village's upper class, and increasingly violent. There are no suspects, but a local schoolteacher (Christian Friedel) has his suspicions.
As with most Michael Haneke films, this movie is cold and cynical, painting a complicated and grey picture of what inspires blind devotion in people, and the attitudes that lead those to think they are better than others.
The (Somewhat) Romantic One: A Very Long Engagement (2004)
If you're looking for an epic tale of romance, this is the one. An adaptation the 1991 novel of the same name, A Very Long Engagement sees Mathilde (Audrey Tautou), a young woman, embarking on a journey to look for her fiance Manech. A soldier stationed at Somme during World War I, he is said to be dead along with four other soldiers. Refusing to give up, she eventually uncovers the brutally corrupt system used by the French government to deal with those who tried to escape the front, as well as the stories of men who got sentenced to the no man's land as a punishment. She, with the help of a private investigator, attempts to find out what happened to her fiancé.
The Period Drama: Testament of Youth (2014)
Oscar-winning actress Alicia Vikander plays Vera Brittain, an independent young woman who attends Oxford University with her brother Edward (Taron Egerton) to get away from her traditional family in Buxton. After the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, Edward, as well as friends Roland (Kit Harington) and Victor (Colin Morgan), enlist in the army. Eventually, Vera leaves Oxford to volunteer for the Voluntary Aid Detachment as a nurse tending the wounded in a hospital in England, before becoming a war nurse out at the war front.