Britain has a rich history.
From the Norman invasion in 1066 to the present day, Brits have pioneered cultural change, paved the way with outstanding scientific and technological advancements, and fought quite a few wars in between. Don’t get us wrong – war is never a good thing, but some of the most brutal conflicts known to the world have thrown out heroes and heroines, stories of tragedy and triumph, and, for Britain, some incredible victories against tyrannical and twisted regimes.
Luckily for fans of British period film, these three factors also make for fantastic film. And, whilst an evening viewing of some of these films may not be as relaxing as playing on bingo websites, they’re most definitely a lot more gripping.
Here, we’ve assembled a list of three of the best – and a little underrated – war films from the last fifteen years…
#3 My Boy Jack
Based upon Rudyard Kipling’s poem of the same name, ‘My Boy Jack’ was adapted for stage and screen by playwright David Haig. Starring Daniel Radcliffe as John Kipling (Rudyard Kipling’s son), this coming of age period drama tells the story of the acclaimed author and poet’s moral struggle and conflict with his family when career and country interests collide with those at home.
The film begins in 1913, with acclaimed writer Rudyard Kipling at the height of his literary fame. A year later, as the First World War breaks out, Kipling is recruited by Downing Street to write propaganda. He uses his influence to get his son John (who has already been rejected from the army and navy due to poor eyesight) enlisted in the military, causing a huge divide between himself, John, and his family.
Whilst John fulfils his, and his father’s, ultimate wish, John’s mother and sister (Carey Mulligan) are wholly against his enlistment. And when John heads off to fight in France, the story portrays Rudyard Kipling’s (and his wife’s) obsessive search for their son who’s soon reported missing in action. When the family discovers that John was killed at the Battle of Loos (1915), Kipling struggles to overcome his feelings of grief and guilt. The film ends with a recital of his poem, ‘My Boy Jack’ – believed to be written loosely about John.
#2 Darkest Hour
Perhaps known best for its incredible transformation of Gary Oldman to Winston Churchill ‘Darkest Hour’ tells the story of Winston Churchill’s early days as both Prime Minister and a Minister of the War Cabinet. Churchill, played fantastically by Oldman, must decide whether to accept a peace treaty with Hitler and the Nazis as they begin to tear across Europe, or whether to continue fighting.
As the film progresses, we come to realise just how close Britain was to conceding and negotiating peace. However, in the final scene, Churchill stands in front of the Commons and delivers his famous ‘we will fight on the beaches’ speech, promising that Britain will fight on.
Reviews of the film are mainly positive, and Oldman was praised for his performance in particular. ‘Darkest Hour’ received six academy award nominations.
#1 War Horse
Now, War Horse (adapted by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis from Michael Morpurgo’s book of the same name) isn’t technically a British film, but a lot of it was shot in Britain, with British actors, written by a British author and adapted by British screenwriters, and is about a British person and horse.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, the parallel stories of the young farm thoroughbred Joey and his owner Albert are vividly brought to life as we experience the horrors of the great war from two innocent characters. Joey passes from owner to owner (British, German, and French) allowing the story to portray that war does in fact involve humans, not senseless killers.
As time passes, Albert enlists in the army. After experiencing the inhumanity of the trenches, he and Joey are eventually reunited – far, far from home, just before Joey is supposed to be put down. And, whilst their reunion may be slightly cliché (Albert nurses Joey back to health), Spielberg has made the film in such a way that the story is really powerful and emotionally provoking – something Spielberg is known for.
With cast, crew, and the film itself winning six awards and nominated for forty more, War Horse is a masterpiece; a period war drama that you simply must watch.