Oh! What a Lovely War (1969)

Article 2638 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-26-2008
Posting Date: 11-2-2008
Directed by Richard Attenborough
Featuring Wendy Allnutt, Colin Farrell, Malcolm McFee
Country: UK

World War I breaks out, and the British send their young men to war. While some people see the war as a game, others die by the millions.

The fantasy element here is that the conflicting views of the war manifest themselves within the reality of the movie by contradictory stylistic approaches, from the more realistic ones of the soldiers on the front to the fantasy ones of those in the higher chains of command; to them, World War 1 is an amusement park, and you can be sent to war by such methods as winning a shooting game or going up to dance with one of the girls during a musical number. As such, the movie is a marginal fantasy, though one which may not appeal to fans of the form specifically. The movie isn’t perfect; it’s a little too long, somewhat confusing at times, and American viewers may not find it as effective, as the movie focuses very strongly on the British view of the war; in fact, the Americans don’t show up until ten minutes before the end of the movie after the lion’s share of the British casualties have occurred. The movie is also a musical, though the songs actually come from the time period; it may be possible that some of the lyrics are new, but I can’t attest to this one way or another. It can be chillingly effective as an anti-war statement at times; my favorite moments involve a general reporting to his superiors the success of a battle in which a vast number of casualties occurred and no ground was gained, and the sad final moment of the movie in which the camera pans back far enough for us to see a graveyard that seems to go on to infinity. The movie has a huge cast, with a number of famous names, including Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Ralph Richardson, Dirk Bogarde, Michael Redgrave, Vanessa Redgrave, Maggie Smith… well, I could go on for quite a while. This was the first directorial effort from Richard Attenborough.



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