Posts Tagged ‘takes’

Fury: a Second World War film that takes no prisoners

October 21st, 2014

More than 15 years on, most people still believe Saving Private Ryan to be an accurate portrayal of D-Day. In fact, there are many inaccuracies. The anti-invasion obstacles, known as “Rommel’s asparagus”, are the wrong way round. The beach is far too narrow – Omaha is vast at low tide, which was when the slaughter depicted took place. Tom Hanks and his platoon are in the Rangers, but in reality, these men didn’t land at Vierville at 6.30am, with the first wave, but nearly an hour later, at 7.27am, and only Company C suffered significant casualties.

Furthermore, the focus on the Americans reinforced the impression that D-Day was predominantly a US show, when nothing could have been further from the truth.

The British and Canadians lost similar numbers of men; Omaha, it was true, was the bloodiest landing beach, but the airborne troops suffered even more casualties than depicted.

But does it matter that film and TV offer an exaggerated version of events? On one level, no, if it ensures there is continued interest in the subject and reminds us of the astonishing sacrifice made. However, it is important to distinguish between fact and fiction.

So what of Fury, the latest Hollywood contribution to the genre? David Ayer, the writer and director, has made it clear that he wanted to portray the closing weeks of the war with a new sense of realism. To a historian, that is a challenge and a half.

Before the opening shot, writing appears on the screen telling us that the Americans were equipped with tanks that had inferior guns and armour to those of the Germans. This is a breathtaking generalisation, and conforms to a ridiculous myth, still widely accepted, that the Germans had better kit than the Allies. Most German tanks were still Panzer Mk IVs, which were not at all superior. The 76mm gun used by the M4A3E8 Sherman, as featured in the film, had a velocity equal to that of the legendary 88mm German gun with which Tigers were equipped. The British 17-pounder was even more lethal. What’s more, by April 1945, the British had the Comet and the Americans the Pershing, both superior to those much-feared German beasts.

Generally, the tank commanders are too old, not least Brad Pitt, at 50; and also Jason Isaacs (51), who plays an infantry captain; the average age of a US company commander by then was 21.

Yet despite these quibbles, the film is a reassuring return to old Hollywood form and ticks many of the established pre-Ryan rules. Pitt is one of the world’s biggest stars and that’s what war films need. The final scene is utterly gripping, brilliantly recreated and the kind of shoot-out that almost certainly would never have happened – why would a lone tank stick its neck out in such a way when the entire Allied armies were just a mile or so behind? But this scenario, again, sits well with the genre.

Fury takes gritty violent realism to new levels, while the detail is absolutely spot on, right down to Isaacs’s captured Luftwaffe coat – a nice touch. The claustrophobia of the tank is brilliantly conveyed, as are all the action sequences, including an effective recreation of a combined armour and infantry attack, and a sensational shoot-out with a Tiger. Certainly, war is violent and hell in Ayer’s film, and those who felt squeamish watching Saving Private Ryan might find some of the graphic violence hard to stomach.

But it is a terrific portrayal of a horrific time. It conforms to all the age-old rules of war films, yet is groundbreaking in its action. These scenes symbolise the terrible sacrifice of the greatest generation. And most importantly of all, it reminds us, vividly, gut-wrenchingly, that the Second World War was a truly catastrophic event that took place not long ago, right here on our doorstep.

Films such as Fury ensure that is a fact we will never forget.

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RAF veteran takes to the skies again at 91

October 18th, 2014

Trevor Watkins, a 91-year-old former RAF pilot who flew during World War Two, has returned to the skies once more.

Mr Watkins was part of a bomber squadron based in Italy.

The veteran pilot from Surrey, who still works, took off in a vintage Tiger Moth.

Describing his flight, Mr Watkins said: “It’s a pretty incredible feeling, or as they say, amazing.”

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Alan Turing biopic takes top prize at Toronto film festival

September 15th, 2014

Cumberbatch, one of the most sought-after actors in film and television, gave an immediate “yes” to playing Turing, he told Reuters last week.

“There is a huge burden, an onus of responsibility,” the 38-year-old Englishman said. “This was an extraordinary man and sadly, bizarrely not that well known a man of his achievements.”

The runner-up for the prize was “Learning to Drive,” a film about a Manhattan writer, played by Patricia Clarkson, who finds comfort in her lessons with a Sikh driving instructor, played by Ben Kingsley.

St. Vincent, starring Bill Murray, took second runner-up.

The People’s Choice award for top film in the Midnight Madness programme, which often showcases horror and offbeat films, went to “What We Do in the Shadows,” a mockumentary about vampires living in a New Zealand suburb.

“I’d like to use this forum to bring attention to a more serious matter: the disgusting sport of vampire hunting,” said co-director and co-star Jemaine Clement.

The People’s Choice award for top documentary went to Beats of the Antonov, which follows refugees from the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains in Sudan.

Started in 1976, the Toronto festival now ranks with Cannes and Sundance as one of the world’s top movie gatherings. The festival often serves as a launching point for films and performances that go on to win Academy Awards, as well as international films seeking distribution deals.

This year saw the festival’s highest film sales after a bidding war ended with Paramount buying Chris Rock’s Top Five for a reported $ 12.5 million, organisers said. Forty-one film sales have been announced so far, including 24 major sales to US distributors.

- 100 jokes by 100 top comedians

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World War 2: Britain takes up the Nazi challenge to save liberty itself

September 2nd, 2014

Article first published in The Daily Telegraph, Sept 4, 1939.

With conscience clear, with no purpose to serve but the saving of liberty itself, Great Britain and France are at war with Germany. In the King’s noble broadcast to the Empire, as in the message in which the Prime Minister today announced that the last bid for honourable peace had failed the ends for which we have taken up the Nazi challenge are put beyond the question of history. We have entered up on a conflict that may well call for such sacrifices as the nation has never before made in the single belief that the Nazi creed and the existence of freedom for the weaker peoples of the earth cannot exist together; that the one must be stamped out if the other is to survive. At this moment our people put aside every unnerving thought. Though civilisation itself may be in jeopardy, we are confident that after the trial to which it will be subjected it will emerge freed from the threat that Hitlerism holds to everything that makes life worth while to those who have not accepted its creed of violence. The things against which we fight are, as the Prime Minister has summed them up, “brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution.” We enter the battle in no spirit of vainglory – never was a nation more calm, less exuberant, more resolved, at the beginning of war – but with the unshakable conviction that right must ultimately prevail.

To the last hour the German Government has maintained the lying propaganda by which it can no longer hope to deceive the opinion of the world. In the reply to the British ultimatum it is stated that “the British Government nullified all German attempts at a peaceful settlement,” although the effort to bring about reasonable negotiation has persisted to a point that alarmed public opinion everywhere. Equally false to every known fact it the allegation that the British Government approved and encouraged the Polish steps, whatever these are alleged to be, against Danzig and the German minority. In these matters the truth is on record and beyond argument; it would be to give too much credit to German belief in the sincerity of its own cause to recite again the stages by which the attack on a weaker nation has been deliberately prepared and launched with cold calculation of the most favourable moment. The world will judge – the patience on the one side in face of extreme provocation, the brutal determination on the other to achieve its ends without compunction or regard for any of the conventions that make international consultations tolerable.

All delay, all suggestion of hesitation is ended. Without a dissenting voice our people have pledged themselves to help Poland to the very limit of national endeavour. From the first moment that Poland was assailed there has been no doubt in the mind of all our citizens what our response must be, what honour and sacred obligations and even the safety of civilisation itself required. Hence the pained surprise on Saturday when Mr. Chamberlain had to announce, to an astonished House of Commons, that a declaration of war awaited the outcome of Signor Mussolini’s last effort for peace, and that no time limit had been fixed for the German reply. Had the mood of our people been the overriding factor in the situation, the first shot across the Polish frontier would have been the signal for British intervention.

In entering upon war to root out “the plague and scourge of mankind,” there has already been the fullest response to his Majesty’s appeal that his peoples should “stand calm, firm and united.” Never was there the last doubt that the Empire would share the sentiments and be prepared for the sacrifices of the Motherland. Their instant association of themselves with the cause that the democracies have sworn to protect is already assured. They have recognised, with ourselves, that we fight to save the whole world from the pestilence of Nazi-ism. Two other things we may feel as we enter upon the highest trial to which the nation has been subjected. In the last few days the crisis has produced such evidence of preparedness as has never before been attained at the commencement of war. The fine organisation of the protective services, the smoothness with which the evacuation of 3,000,000 women and children has been carried through, the calm with which precautionary measures were taken in the first air-raid warning yesterday, provide convincing evidence that our people will remain unshaken by the experiences they must face. Secondly, there is, as Mr. Churchill said in the House of Commons yesterday, a generation ready to prove itself not unworthy of those who laid the foundations of the land, and not unworthy, as we may add, of the magnificent Allied armies which in the years of the Great War checked the German ambition at a domination now revived under Herr Hitler.

The war cabinet

Public opinion will heartily approve of the step which the Prime Minister has taken in reconstituting the Cabinet on a war basis. Indeed, the fact that no time has been lost in adopting this necessary measure will give immense relief and satisfaction, of which not the least element will be the inclusion of Mr. Winston Churchill in the key position of First Lord of the Admiralty. By active experience of war-time administration, by exceptional vision in the domain of the higher strategy, and by intimate knowledge of the Royal Navy, Mr. Churchill has outstanding qualification to render invaluable service to the nation in this crucial time. Another appointment that will be greatly welcomes is that of Lord Hankey (without Portfolio), whose long and distinguished service as Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence has given him an intimate understanding of the problems which will specially preoccupy the War Cabinet. The Opposition parties have preferred not to be represented in the War Cabinet, now reduced to half the size of the Cabinet which it replaces. Though representing one side of the House, it has every claim to command public confidence. The only criticism that suggests itself is that, even in its reduced dimensions, the Cabinet is possibly still too large for the making of those swift decisions inevitably demanded by the vicissitudes of war. It will be remembered that Mr Lloyd George’s War Cabinet in 1918 was one of six members only.

Other changes mainly concern Ministers who are not included in the narrower Ministerial circle. Thus, while Sir Samuel Hoare has a seat in the War Cabinet, he exchanges offices with Sir John Anderson, who becomes Home Secretary, but continues his work as Minister of Home Security in charge of A.R.P., without a seat in the War Cabinet. Giving place to Mr. Churchill, Earl Stanhope leaves the Admiralty for the Lord Presidency of the Council; Sir Thomas Inskip goes from the Dominions Office to the Woolsack in succession to Lord Maugham; and, not least important, Mr. Eden is brought into the Government as Secretary of State for the Dominions, with special access to the Cabinet.

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Reliving the war takes a toll on veterans

June 9th, 2014

Sixty-one years later and aged 92, he retraced that journey and recorded his thoughts and memories in a series of articles for the Telegraph.

Bill always had a simple matter-of-fact use of language but, increasingly, the tone of the articles was unrelentingly bleak. The photographs that accompanied the daily reports seemed to suggest his increasing frailty. It was clear that the journey was shining an all-too-bright light into his memory, highlighting things that had been laid to rest there for decades.

Bill was never one to throw in the towel. So, when many would have come home early, he pressed on. His war had appeared to end in triumph with the award of the Military Cross and a citation that highlighted personal bravery and loyalty to his men. But for him it was a disaster. In April 1945, one month before VE Day, Bill’s company were led by faulty intelligence into an ambush at a bridge over the Twente Canal. His actions led to his MC, but in the engagement 22 of his men were killed and another 20 wounded. The dead included Bill’s two favourite subalterns, both in their early twenties. The death of these young men, who so nearly survived the war to build new lives with the ebullience of youth, traumatised their commanding officer, who regarded their loss as his responsibility.

Bill privately considered his years as a soldier to have been the most admirable of his career; surprising, perhaps, for the only man to have ever been a cabinet minister and editor of a national daily newspaper. But his recollections of the war years were hardly ever revealed – and only to close family. They were sealed up by scars inflicted at the end.

Before Bill left for his VE Day memorial expedition, he was still formidably engaged with life. Only a year earlier he had marked his 90th birthday by flying to Darfur in Africa to report on that country’s humanitarian crisis. But from his return home in 2005 until his death two years later, the enthusiasm and tenacity that had driven him on ebbed inexorably away.

So as their ranks thin like falling leaves, we should think carefully about how we expect our veterans to engage with ceremonies and anniversaries. For us it is a proper and laudable marking of history. For some of them, as with Bill, it can be a journey into a past that they have been relieved to leave behind. They were there, we were not.

George Plumptre is chief executive of the National Gardens Scheme

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