War Films Are More Important Than History Books

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Hold on before you light the torches and sharpen your pitch forks, let me explain myself. The reason I say this as that I believe it to be true on multiple levels. My first point being that its instantly accessible regardless of your level of knowledge going into the cinema or pressing play on the remote before you settle in to a war movie or historical film. Nine times out of ten the film will hold your hand with useful title cards they fully explain to the viewer when the film is set, the year and socio-political climate of the film’s story – essentially a mini history lesson.

Take the start of 1977s ‘A Bridge Too Far’ that has a very handy voice over explaining the reasoning for the operation documented in the film before the main part of the film starts. It puts the viewer in the picture of the Second World War in September 1944. There is even some great stock footage played during the narration which further ads to the immersion. Books by design do not have this at their disposal.

Now I’m not saying your should strip your book shelves bare and replace them with house plants. But you should think of books, in this case history books, as the secondary piece of the puzzle when it comes to getting to grips with the past in 2021. Of course not everyone reading this will agree but that’s okay. Hear me out.

Take the 2016 made-for-Netflix film ‘Siege of Jadotville’ it was based on a 2005 book by Declan Power. We recently covered it on the podcast and we were overwhelmed with the fanbase the film has within the war movie genre and the film as a whole. The film stars Jamie Dornan, of ’50 shades’ fame, in the lead role. I have no qualms in thinking his appearance in that film definitely shared the story of those brave soldiers who fought in the siege with more people who would have never watched the film unless he had been involved. Secondly, it’s housed within a platform that is accessible and there is no penalisation for sticking the film on seeing if its your cup of tea. If not you can move on with no hassle.

Dornan in Siege of Jadotville

However, if you had bought the book (I’m not saying its any less of a thriller) and not gelled with the writing style of the time needed to put by to read it you would have then been lumped with a book that you wont read and even possibly throw away. Inversely, captivating books like Cornelius Ryan’s ‘A Bridge Too Far‘ and Power’s book on Jadotville provide excellent and ready material for war films – there is in some cases a somewhat symbiotic relationship.

Film and TV serve as they key to further learning, they have that power. Trust me, I will be perfectly honest I had never heard of the Irish Army’s greatest battle before I sat down to watch ‘Siege’ and I’m sure I was not the only one! After I went off and did some secondary research into the battle, which I probably would not have done if I had not seen the film, I had a much greater appreciation for the battle and the men who fought it.

As a former re-enactor, of multiple historic periods, I spoke with hundreds of other re-enactors and I can tell you many owed their passion to the power of film. There are numerous groups that bare the badge of the famous 101st U.S. Airborne division whose story was told in the smash hit TV series ‘Band of Brothers’. The nucleus for a lot of these groups and people that take up the hobby lies at some level within war films and TV.

I myself bought a Second World War Denison Smock because of my love of films like ‘Theirs is the Glory’ & ‘A Bridge Too Far’. Films have the power of using iconography and making clothing cool and desirable. Everyone has known a dad who fancies themselves as a Great Escape-era Steve McQueen with his leather flying jacket & grey jumper combo. Hard to think of many books that have that power over style and culture.

Anthony Hopkins, as Johnny Frost, looking great in a Denison in ‘A Bridge Too Far’

In the world of TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat & Twitter. Attention spans are seemingly lower than ever and the time that media has to grab the attention of its viewer is shorter than ever before. For me movies have never been more important in the sphere of historical learning. The level of awareness of the heroics of Operation Dynamo in Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’ or the trenches of the First World War in Sam Mendes’s ’1917’ is staggering, it helps keep the memories of these events alive and presents them in a medium we can all enjoy regardless of knowledge or background. Books will always be there to add the weight to the initial stories shown in films. They go hand in hand. It’s a mantra I often bring up on the podcast we need to champion these films not sit and dissect or belittle the accuracy (well maybe a little) but remember why they are made, to remember the past and keep the flame of learning alive for generations to come.

Robbie McGuire

Robbie McGuire

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