Alan Burton / “Death or Glory? The Great War in British Film” / British Historical Cinema / 2002

Samuel Hynes has shown, 1990, how British artists struggled to “imagine total war.” WW1 left 750,000 British dead. This essay considers how British film has approached the Great War. Michael Paris, film historian, has noted popular culture’s often ambiguous treatment of WW1. Popular forms–> social need for nation coming to terms with loss, lacked latitude of expression of elite forms. First films offered little criticism of war, and for this reason some films received criticism. Some WW1 films of the 1920s were controversial. Especially Herbert Wilcox’s Dawn, 1928, story of nurse Edith Cavell, shot by Germans. Difficulty with British Board of Film Censors, and other nations’ censors re diplomatic relations and taste. Journey’s End, 1930, ambivalent treatment, officer focused, senior officer given to DRINK. At stake is officer’s fitness for duty, but duty itself not called into question. [SEE RE DRINK QUESTION and UNFIT TO SERVE. Was the discourse of ‘unfit to serve’ used as a means of obtaining consent during wartime?] Tell England, 1931, British Instructional production, officer with shattered nerves – drinks. Remainder of essay looks at four movies, King and Country, 1964, Oh! What a Lovely War, 1969, Regeneration, 1997, The Trench, 1999.


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