Posted by: Bill Lord | December 27, 2009

War films at Christmas

I sat down this afternoon to watch The Heroes of Telemark with my daughter as part of our christmas tradition of watching old war films. We chatted about why we think that these films are so popular.

We decided that the films have a known element (the viewer knows the cause and the main protagonists of the war), clearly defined baddies and goodies, most of the films made in the immediate post war period portray Allied victories  and there is usually an element of the ordinary person achieving more than they thought they ever could. This simple formula has  similarities to many wonderful children’s books and perhaps that is why there remains this annual love for war films.

At the same time I thought back to some recent training where we discussed the books they used with their children. I was slightly concerned that where people were trying to tie their history topics on the World War II they were recommending books which were often not appropriate for the age group by this I mean books like The Machine Gunners or  The Boy in the Blue Striped Pyjamas or  were unaware of the some of the excellent ones which have been recently released.

I thought I would post some books that I have recently read which deal with issues around WWII and which have inspired me, excited me or are just a damned good read. I am taking it as read that readers are aware of books such as Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian, Friend or Foe by Michael Morpurgo and The War and Freddy by Dennis Hamley

Hitler’s Canary – Sandi Toksvig (extract) A wonderfully written story fuelled by stories from the author’s family. It introduces the reader to the events which took place in occupied Denmark including the smuggling of much of the Jewish population to safety in Sweden. The book is more than a retelling of a wartime event as it contains the warmth of a family tale with Toksvig’s wonderful humour.

Once – Morris Gleitzman (Chapter One read by the author)
Then – Morris Gleitzman
Two short novellas by one of the best British exports to Australia, Gleitzman tells a story of friendship, loyalty, naivety, death and war through the eyes of a ten year old Jewish boy. Strong characters and harsh realities are delivered through simple language, short chapters andmoments of warmth.

My Secret War Diary – Marcia Williams Wow! A wonderful book which is one of the most brilliantly illustrated and thought out books recently produced. This has had a similar effect as Hugo Cabret on its readers with its ability to grab children’s imaginations. The book is handwritten with authentic photos, posters, leaflets and reports from WWII. Flossie Albright tells the story of her war living on a large estate experiencing the arrival of evacuees and land girls, rationing and worrying about her father fighting in


  1. I have lost count of the number of times I have seen the heroes of telemark. It is one of my husband’s favourite films. I wonder if war films are enduring because they have quite defined blueprints for the plot. I think it is a voyage and return story where we meet the main characters and then move into a strange world, this place is exciting but soon becomes a difficulty and increasingly alarming. The shadow starts to dominate and pose a threat and the heroes finally escape back to where they started with the question what was gained or learned. (This is a Christopher Booker blueprint). Other stories with a voyage and return blueprint are The Lion the witch and the wardrobe, alice in wonderland and goldilocks.

  2. The blueprint element of the films means that they have similarities to traditional tales as well.
    I am glad that I am not alone in my love of the film which I have seen many times.
    In the film the Norwegian resistance wear white snow camoflage whilst the black clothing of the traitor give him away from the instant you see him. Simple symbolism but again a reason why such films are often such a hit with children and adults.
    Hope you had a good Christmas, Joy!

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