We’ve all had our own personal quirky reactions to the shelter in place caused by COVID-19. Mine, at least in terms of media, was to binge a million World War II documentaries and films. I’m not entirely sure why — I’ve always been interested in the Nazi era (what was it like to live in Nazi Germany/occupied countries? how could people go along with the Holocaust? how could they take Hitler seriously?), so there’s that. I think, however, my binge relates to the fact that World War II was somebody else’s crisis — it’s over, it’s resolved, there’s an end to it (which there isn’t for our current pandemic). Also, I think the fact that it was a human-created crisis relates too — COVID-19 has logic, but it’s not human logic.
If I watch something period, it’s gotta get reviewed here. However, as we’ve pointed out, there doesn’t tend to be a lot to talk about when it comes to war films. So, in the spirit of our short review round-up posts, I’m going to offer some quick thoughts and looks at the (usually minor) female characters’ wardrobes (because what is there to say about the boys except “nice suit” or “nice uniform”?). In fact, I rewatched Saving Private Ryan (1998) in the middle of all this, but I’m not even including it here because there’s literally zero women in it. Good film! Nothing costumey to review!
In release date order:
The Gathering Storm (2002)
Albert Finney plays Winston Churchill in the lead-up to World War II, and he’s pretty darn good. Vanessa Redgrave, however, steals the show as his wife Clementine — she’s smart, she’s patient AF, and her hair (while demure and conservative) is beautifully elegant. Linus Roache is sweet as a concerned politician, and Lena Headey adds a dash of glamour as his wife. The costumes were designed by The Great Jenny Beavan and are thus on point.
I’ve seen the “Hitler melting down” scene/meme, but never the actual film — and I’m really, really glad I did! Told from the perspective of Hitler’s young, naive secretary, it tells the story of the final days in Hitler’s bunker. You get to see a rounded view of Hitler — I’m not saying they make him admirable, but I mean you see more than just him ranting, and you can see how he related to people and how they related to him, and maybe just slightly understand him and the period better. The biggest revelation is Eva Braun’s character — she’s WAY more of a ditzy optimist than I expected her to be. The costumes were designed by Claudia Bobsin, and they passed muster with me.
Based on a stage play and you can tell, but in a good way — thoughtful, character-focused. Viggo Mortensen plays a German literature teacher who’s initially uninterested in the Nazis, but gets lured in. Jason Isaacs is his Jewish friend, Jodie Whittaker becomes his perfect Aryan wife, and Gemma Jones plays his mother in a tragic thread about aging. The costumes were designed by Györgyi Szakács, and they get a thumbs up from me.
Hey, when I go on a binge, I go on a binge! Tom Cruise plays German Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who led a plot to assassinate Hitler. Cruise is not a thespian, looks ridiculous in his eye patch, and his American accent is laughable. Luckily the rest of the cast (Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp, Tom Wilkinson) make up for Cruise. Carice van Houten plays Cruise’s well-to-do wife, and her wardrobe is BALLS OUT HOT DAMN OUTSTANDING. The costumes were designed by Joanna Johnston, and GURL.
Into the Storm (2009)
The sequel to The Gathering Storm, this focuses on Churchill (Brendan Gleeson) during the war. Apparently Churchill liked to ruminate aloud a lot? Janet McTeer plays Clementine this time around, and she’s equally elegant as Redgrave. The costumes were designed by Consolata Boyle, and all was lovely.
The Exception (2016)
Lily James plays a fictional Dutch maid working for the deposed German Kaiser Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer), who lived in exile in the Netherlands after the end of World War I (I admit, I had no idea!). Nazis come to stay, and things get complicated. Both are good in their roles (James does a great job with a Dutch accent!), but the film goes through some awfully convenient twists near the end that make it a bit formulaic. Janet McTeer plays the kaiser’s wife. The costumes were designed by Daniela Ciancio (the upcoming, 1917-set Fatima, about the children who had visions of the Virgin Mary in Portugal), and all was nice suits/uniforms/average daywear until the end, when James gets a glam suit.
Jesse Eisenberg plays Marcel Marceau, the famous French mime who was Jewish and was heavily involved in the French Resistance; Clémence Poésy plays a fellow resistor. Oh dear. It’s interesting, but it’s SO hard for me to find mimeing at all un-cheesy, and the end gets pretty Hallmark Hall of Fame. There’s a reason you haven’t heard about this. The costumes were designed by Katharina Ost, and they’re all fine.
What weird TV/film have you been bingeing these days?