Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Oh! What A Lovely War - film review

Having been lent this by Penny Dreadful Vintage, and with my time of looking after The Christmas Cat coming to a rapid end, I thought I had better give this a butchers before I had to handed it, and Elsa, back to their rightful owners.

I wish I had not waited so long to watch it, for I immediately wanted watch it again so that I could take it all in. I thought, whilst it was on, that I may struggle to put it across to you guys how I felt about it. But, I shall try.

For me, it shows simultaneously, the bare bones of The Great War and the dream like fantastical quality of the times as they happened, coupled with the nightmarish reality we can still feel today.

From the song and dance atmosphere at the breakout in the seaside summer time of 1914, I was taken on ride. A ride that I felt was spinning me about and making me feel sick, whilst calming me with the songs of the age. A Long Way to Tipperary. Keep the Home Fires Burning. And my favourite, Taking the King's Shilling (although I have a feeling this was written for the show to the tune of an original song.)

I adored the subtlety's of the film. The score boards of the dead. The female drivers. The tinkling of soldier songs throughout.

I felt like I was watching something almost unbelievable. Which is how I feel about the lead up to, the execution of and the aftermath of World War 1.

It can be viewed if you know little or nothing about the War, because it will educate you. That said it will ease the confusion if you know some info, or the poetry of it all might be lost and lead to frowning. And, if you know more than a little - then you will find it entertaining, amusing, humbling and poignant.

For a directing debut from Richard Attenbourough it is a corker. The costume, the casting, the location (mostly the now destroyed Brighton West Pier) -  it is all fantastic.

In short -  see this movie.

A 9/10


  1. Just put this on my list - this is exactly what I was looking for!x

  2. cor haven't seen this for donkey's years,we also did a production of it at school. *goes off singing oh, oh, oh it's a lovely war*

  3. It's an excellent film, I've lost count of the number of times I've watched it, and I bawl every time. It really does capture the insanity of it all, especially when one sees the bit with Haig and the scoreboard and the French soldiers on the carousel. I know what you mean about the songs, they get me every time. I went to a production of "Journey's End" last year and in the intervals they played some of them, "There's a Long, Long Trail" just about sent me into a snivelling heap, not that I needed much given the subject matter. It was awful and wonderful, really glad I had the chance to see it.
    I can never, ever come to terms with the horror of it all. Not that I don't feel pity and sadness and all the rest for the 2nd war, I do, in spades, but this was different.

  4. I've been in a stage production too. I can remember the dances and everything. It's an amazing script- there are instructions within it for updating it to bring in poignant/satirical info about current conflicts too, which means no two versions are ever quite the same. They all say something unique about the terrible truths of war.

  5. I'm so glad you liked it, it really is incredible how it manages to be informative, funny, sad, sobering, and with catchy songs all at the same time.

  6. It needs to be viewed in the context of the era in which it was made. Yes the songs and some of the details are good, BUT....The play was first put on by a highly politically motivated theatre group. The revisionist books of the time (Lions Lead By Donkeys) were at their best, inaccurate. For one example... As "any fule no" the last scenes of the crosses are apocryphal... The CWGC stones are solid, and not laid out thus. For a more balanced view of WW1, read Prof Gary Sheffield's "Forgotten Victory" and Col Gordon Corrigan's "Mud Blood and Poppycock". This film IS NOT an accurate representation of the great war, but a THEATRICAL Work, and should not be viewed as a historical document.

  7. I must agree with Graham. I will however correct one further inaccuracy. Most of the songs are genuine WWI songs, but have been "cleaned up". Eg "When this lousy war is over". I can tell you from first hand experience, Henry Allingham cheerfully sang a tune or two which was less than PG at a book launch where we were displaying.

    It is, what it is. A film with songs in that tells a political message.

  8. Hi Graham - thanks for commenting. Yes - you are right - the end with the crosses is not how the CWGC lays out - but until 1919/1920 - were not most, if not all, markers wooden? At no point in my review did I say it was historically accurate in all respects or that it should be viewed as such - but I think if it makes someone interested in knowing more - that is no bad thing. It is, as you say, a theatre production. Thank you for pointing me towards "Forgotten Victory" - added to my looooooong list of books. I shall certainly be giving that a read :)

    Hello Simon - I am humbled that you were lucky enough to meet Henry Allingham. And pleased to know that all songs were based on, if not actual, originals.

  9. Graham - in fact - I have just ordered "Forgotten Victory". Thanks again!


I'd love to hear what you think so feel free to comment away!


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