By Kirsty Pearce
One of the most devastating events of the 1900s, World War II officially lasted from ‘39 to ’45. Although primarily a time of intense turmoil and unimaginable horror, it also simultaneously allowed for significant scientific and technological breakthroughs, heroic and daring acts of courage, and inspired some of the most heart-warming, heart-breaking stories ever told. In this article I will take you through some of my favourite stories as portrayed in film, each one a terrific example of how the many aspects of WWII have come to life over the years.
We’ll begin with one of the quieter ones, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Dealing with what the aftermath of German occupation during the war looked like for a select number of individuals from a small English Channel island, it also featured a kind and decent German soldier. Uplifting, thoughtful, romantic, and kind of wistful while also viscerally showcasing the emotional toil the war had taken, this one ultimately evokes the feeling of snuggling up with a blanket in front of a fire on a cold day; a classic, through and through.
Monuments Men is another film that effortlessly feels like it belongs to 50s cinema, detailing as it does the mostly under-the-radar real-life tale of a group of older gents recruited to search for, protect, and preserve pieces of art in Europe. With a well-developed cast of characters, the importance of preserving the magic that is art and culture placed front and centre, and plenty of heart-tugging moments, it’s a well-balanced, quieter piece that deserves all the love. The fantastic montage alone near the start is reason enough to watch; the backing track a jaunty, peppy military tune, it introduces each of the men who will make up the group as they are recruited and given their gear. Another scene I adore that’s more on the sombre side features the daughter of one of the Monuments Men singing an acapella version of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Included as part of a recording she sends him, it’s played over an army base loudspeaker as we see images from the surgical tent where a young soldier found and brought in by two of the Monuments Men lays dying. The juxtaposition of those lyrics sung in such a stark arrangement with this visual reminder of the massive loss of life that occurred is effective and oh so bittersweet.
Keeping within the sphere of the European Theatre, while there are many films I could talk about that centre their plot around the plight of the European Jewish population during this time, The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler and Defiance are two at the very top of my list. Both based on true events and people, Courageous Heart chronicles the story of a woman who risked everything to smuggle Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghettos before they got sent to the camps. A harrowing look at the struggle so many went through in having to give their children up so they could live, and those that stepped up to help in a life or death situation, it’s not completely dark, with some lovely humorous scenes and a sweet ending.
Defiance is also an emotionally engaging and compelling story of Jewish survival, about a Polish family of four brothers who endeavour to stay off the Nazi’s radar in the woods, eventually extending their protection to other Jews as well. Moving on to the Pacific Theatre of WWII, Midway depicts the events of Pearl Harbor and everything that transpired after it in the lead-up to the titular battle which turned the tide of the war being fought on this front. The brilliant direction and writing are crafted in such a way that the characters populating the film (all real-life historical figures) drive the story and the action, pulling the audience in and eliciting a strong emotional investment from the beginning. I was a teary wreck for the entire last half hour of the film. What was even more impressive is the fact the angst I was feeling was on behalf of both the Allied AND the Japanese soldiers.
I also briefly wanted to mention The Lost Valentine, a Hallmark film set mostly in present day telling the story of a woman whose husband went MIA in WWII. She made a tradition of going to the train station where they said goodbye every year. What I love most about it though is that not only is it a gorgeous romance that transcends time, but most of the flashback scenes feature the home front. We see the woman and her pilot sweetheart reconnect after high school, fall in love, and marry in a whirlwind courtship that beautifully reflects the can’t-waste-a-moment mentality of the period.
Although one of the most confronting examples of the dark and depraved depths to which human nature can sink, WWII was a time which also provided the opportunity for people from all walks and nationalities to show our capacity for courageous, sacrificial, and compassionate decisions. This battle between the two extremes of dark and light as represented through these movies is always a treat to watch unfold, and I hope at least one or two of them might take a spot on your favorites list too!
Other Recommended WWII Films: Woman in Gold, Come See the Paradise, A League of Their Own, The Darkest Hour, Mrs. Miniver, Twelve O’Clock High, Dunkirk, and Casablanca.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hopeless romantic, fervent bibliophile, and aspiring word-smith, Kirsty Pearce also has a deep love for fantasy, fairy tales, & history. With a wide range of TV obsessions from Outlander, Bitten, & Grimm, to Dancing With The Stars, Nikita, & Horrible Histories, she enjoys watching as many Hallmark films as possible, knitting, baking, and sharing all her fan-girl thoughts on her blog.