Oh the Many WWII Movies & TV Shows I’ve Watched!


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.

2002 The Gathering Storm

Finney is great, but Redgrave is SO good!

2002 The Gathering Storm

Her perfect barrel curls!

2002 The Gathering Storm

Tom Hiddleston plays the Churchills’ cranky son, and has a great Marcel wave.

2002 The Gathering Storm

Thank you to whoever made Lena Headey’s hat!

2002 The Gathering Storm

She’s so glam — love this beaded capelet.

2002 The Gathering Storm

Two generations of elegance.


Downfall (2004)

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.

Alexandra Maria Lara as secretary Traudl Junge is appropriately simply dressed.

Juliane Köhler as Eva Braun is more stylishly dressed, but in a reasonable way.

This print was gorgeous.

Sparkly evening gown (plus oily Hitler and what I assume are good uniforms).

Cool split sleeves.

And then Braun busts out the drindl!

Hooray Germany’s golden era! It’s all crumbling around us! What fun!


Good (2008)

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.

There’s a lot of talking, but it’s good talking.

Whitaker starts as Mortensen’s student.

The Nazis plop over her blonde-ness.

Beautiful beaded satin.


Valkyrie (2008)

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.

2008 Valkyrie

Ignore Cruise, focus on van Houten.

2008 Valkyrie

I love an underbust seam!

2008 Valkyrie


2008 Valkyrie

On display.

2008 Valkyrie

From behind.

2008 Valkyrie


2008 Valkyrie


2008 Valkyrie

The tie! The hat!

2008 Valkyrie

Random nightclub singer is glam.


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.

2009 Into the Storm

Restrained elegance.

2009 Into the Storm

Many subtle details make for an authentic look.


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.

2016 The Exception

Maid-wear is boring.

2016 The Exception

Plummer is ALWAYS excellent.

2016 The Exception

All spiffed up in his official uniform.

2016 The Exception

McTeer is elegant.

2016 The Exception

James’ end-of-film glow-up.


Resistance (2020)

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.

2020 Resistance

I think “practical” is the theme word.

2020 Resistance

Except for supporting character Mila (Vica Kerekes), who had some great details on this suit — I wish I could find better pics.


What weird TV/film have you been bingeing these days?

38 Responses

  1. Gail

    My goodness.

    I saw ‘Good’ on stage, Broadway, years ago with Derek Jacobi in the main role. It was chilling. Will have to watch the movie version.

  2. Colleen

    I’ve seen 3 or 4 of these. I too, am obsessed with World War 2 and I don’t know why. A few years ago I went through a period of watching movies I might not have ever watched, and I saw The Woman in Gold. It was a sad and extremely frustrating movie.

  3. Nzie

    The two Churchill flicks have been on my amazon watch list for a while. My mom really loves Churchill and I find him pretty interesting too. Darkest Hour might also be a good one to add to your list if you haven’t seen it (I can’t remember if there was a quick review or something). I thought they were pretty successful at making a Great Man of history film that included women in meaningful ways that made sense. The subway scene is ridiculous though; WSC was no man of the people (although something does ring true about how he might use it as a rhetorical device in the scene that follows, unlikely though it is).

    Can anyone rock a beret like Lily James? I have one, but I never pull it off like she does. She really does great in that period for clothes and styling. I have serious wardrobe envy still from Guernsey L&PPPS.

    I hadn’t heard of several of these… I do remember, however, a couple sibs going to see Valkyrie in theatres and coming back laughing about it. I guess at one point their was a boom mic clearly visible in a shot and they didn’t like Cruise’s acting. Hopefully the boom at least was edited out before it went to dvd/streaming. One thing I didn’t realize until I read a book on it was how interconnected all the Hitler assassination plots were. Valkyrie is just one of them; Bonhoffer’s group was another. Apparently the entire German military intelligence apparatus was pretty anti-Hitler and actively pursuing assassination plots and using a Bavarian lawyer as a go-between to get the pope to agree to act as a broker with the Allies, coming to some preliminary agreements about giving up land they’d taken over but retaining sovereignty, etc. NatGeo had a slightly cheesy short documentary on it, but the book it’s based on, Church of Spies, was fascinating.

    What is it about WWII stuff that captures the imagination so well? I like plenty of historical periods but perhaps there’s something more reachable when things are still in living memory.

    • Al Don

      I feel like Operation Valkyrie was better dramatized in not only the 2004 German film, but also 1967’s highly fictionalized The Night of the Generals . Maybe I’m just a sucker for that great cast. Then again I couldn’t for the life of me get over the way they pronounced “Valkyrie” which was incorrect by both English and German standards haha.

    • Kendra

      “there’s something more reachable when things are still in living memory” — yes, and there’s also so much that’s relatable in terms of technology/lifestyle to our own. And when you think “those are our grandparents/great-grandparents” it’s pretty chilling.

  4. mmcquown

    If you think about it, any movie made before, say, 1960 or 70 is a period piece by default,

  5. mmcquown

    I grew up during WWII and have a special connexion to the period, Sunday will be the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Britain; were is not for the RAF, who knows: We might all be speaking Berman today. As to one keeps watching these films, it was a time which left its mark upon us all today. It’s also the last war that made any sense. Even today, there are still many European cities which bear the scars of that war.

  6. Sharon in Scotland

    My default setting is to ignore Tom Cruise

  7. Saraquill

    I’m trying to think whether or not The Makioka Sisters counts as a WW2 film. The novel heavily downplays “the international situation,” most likely on purpose. As for the film, it’s pretty, but cuts out a lot of what makes the book fascinating, and I say this as someone who saw the film first.

    Still, the film is Criterion, and worth a look for the kimonos if nothing else. I strongly recommend the squeaking obi scene.

  8. Charity

    I really like Janet McTeer. She’s marvelous… and she has such a beautiful, soothing voice. I hadn’t heard of The Exception, but now I need to see it.

      • Charity

        Yes. I have a super vague memory of it, though, so it’s been awhile.

        I don’t think I really noticed Janet until I saw her in The White Queen (I hate PFG but for some reason I like that adaptation — talk about self-torture!) and she knocked the socks off me with her Jaquetta Woodville, and now I am like YAY SHE’S IN THIS, I SHALL WATCH. (She was also really lovely in the Sense & Sensibility miniseries a few years back.) Also, though I primarily watch only costume dramas, if she’s in a straight up drama / cop show / whatever, I’m 10 times more likely to watch it now. Add another actress to my Girl Crush List. ;)

  9. Lily Lotus Rose

    Of the ones you listed, I’ve only seen The Exception. I thought it was very good (even though the ending went off the rails a bit and the casting of Eddie Marsan felt wierd to me). Jai Courtney looked delish. Even so, Christopher Plummer was holding his own against the young tyke in the looks department, and in his sumptuous costumes–forget about it!

    On another thread I commented that the only costume shows I’ve been watching during the pandemic are Grantchester and the Jonathan Rhys-Meyers Dracula TV show. (I know one of you did a whole “hate post” on JRM, I just can’t remember who.) I’m enjoying Grantchester, though sad that there are only a limited episodes to watch before James Norton leaves the show. JRM’s Dracula is all kinds of ridiculous (in a bad way), and I can only rationalize that I’m watching because of my fascination with anything Dracula-related. That, plus Thomas Kretschmann. (Ooh, that makes me think: Could we have a Man Candy Monday on Thomas Kretschmann, please?)

    Re your point about why your watching WWII shows now: It’s over and done with. I think that’s one thing that draws me to costume pieces (because unlike you ladies, I’m not a costume expert). To some degree they’re all “once upon a time,” and I really enjoy having that remove from the regular ol’ hum-drum and worrisome days of my contemporary life.

  10. Aleko

    Re Downfall: never assumed that movie or TV uniforms are good (unless the Mollo brothers were responsible). It’s normal even for productions where they researched the hell out of the civilian costumes and spent serious money on them, to hire any old junk for the military characters. Even where money was spent on the uniforms, it’s astonishingly rare for the costume designers to consult anyone who knows what the uniforms should look like or how they were worn. The military uniform Alan Rickman wore in the last scene of Sense & Sensibility is ludicrous in a variety of ways,
    but they were clearly proud of it and it was hawked around on display for years.

    • Kendra

      Sounds like you may know your stuff! We, unfortunately, don’t know military At All. :( We need someone to write a guest post (hint hint)!

  11. Kendra

    I’m just not a fan of Cruise — I think he’s good in certain roles (modern thrillers, Top Gun) and in others, it feels like he’s stretching his abilities. But, Your Mileage May Vary, and you’re welcome to like him!

  12. Nzie

    The WWI costumes were great. The sequel is set in 1984 I think, so while it’s technically a period piece in that it’s set in an earlier time period, it’s after your 1960s historical cut off.

    • Nzie

      not sure how this ended down up here but it’s about Wonder Woman…

  13. Anneke

    I saw the trailer for the exception and could just not get past the bad fake Dutch James was saying. Even the character’s own name was a struggle. 😝 I decided the story wasn’t intriguing enough for me to suffer through bad Dutch. The Kaiser was related to the Dutch royals hence his exile. Though as far as I remember he was basically a prisoner on his estate and spent most of his days chopping wood.

  14. The Scrivener

    Wish Me Luck! Mid 90s BBC show about Englishwomen who join the Resistance in France. Currently on Prime.

    There’s also World of Fire, which is decent if a bit soapy.

  15. Mina van Berh

    If you want to add a tv show to your WWII- queue, try X Company – it‘s about Canadian spies in occupied France and it is so gripping and so very good!!

    • Skepwith

      I second this rec for X Company. I thought the costumes were very convincing and lovely (esp. Aurora’s dresses), and I’m pretty sure the designer was nominated for a couple of awards.

  16. Black Tulip

    OK, so I looked at the picture of Janet McTeer as Clementine Churchill and thought, “That portrait in the background doesn’t look bad”.

    Your work here is done.

  17. kw

    If you liked Carice van Houten in Valkyrie, you will probably like Blackbook too. She’s done a lot of WWII movies and series, especially in the beginning of her career, but most of those are in Dutch.

    I am planning to watch Exception, because the Emperor’s last castle was one village away from where I lived. In non Covid times you can visit in person, but now they have an e-visit function. Google “Huize Doorn e-visit”.

    And yes the Kaiser got asylum from the Dutch government but his movement was very limited. His cousin Queen Wilhelmina could not stand him even though she felt obliged to keep him. The woodcutting was actually his weird hobby, and he regularly quarreled with neighbours about the trees he felled.