Feature: The Best Second World War Dramas

War films don’t have to be all about huge explosions and big-scale action sequences – some of the most powerful centre on the personal dramas of individual characters or families in wartime life. For instance, this week sees the release of SARAH’S KEY, staring the great Kristin Scott Thomas. Scott-Thomas gives a magnificent performance as present-day American journalist following the trail of a French girl’s escape from the Nazis in occupied war-time Paris. Let’s have a look down some of the best World War 2-set films that don’t go down the Saving Private Ryan route…

1. Boy In The Stripped Pyjamas
A Holocaust drama based on the novel, the film shows the horrors of a WWII extermination camp through the eyes of two young boys – one the son of a Nazi Commandant, one a Jewish captive. The boys become friends from either side of the barbed wire fence with tragic consequences.(imdb)

2. Empire of the Sun
Spielberg’s adaption of JG Ballard’s coming of age memoir, screenplay by Tom Stoppard, tells the story of an English boy (played by a 13year old Christian Bale) living in Shanghai under Japanese occupation. This film, like the Boy in The Stripped Pyjamas, is an example of the experience of war as a ‘loss of innocence.’(imdb)

3. Downfall
Unflinching portrayal of the final days of Nazi Germany set in the claustrophobic corridors of Hitler’s bunker. The film is based on historic novels as well as the memoirs of Hitler’s secretary and the sense of impending doom is very believable. Bruno Ganz made a captivating Hitler and was the first German actor to play him, amid German uneasiness with ‘humanising’ the Führer.(imdb)

4. Schindler’s List
Another Speilberg production, this time a beautiful black and white film (with the exception of the girl in the red coat) starring Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler, a German business who saved the lives of thousands of Polish Jews by employing them in his factories. At the end of the film we learn that there were only 4000 surviving Jews in Poland at the time of production, but over 6000 descendents of Schindler’s Jews around the world. The film received 7 Academy Awards, 7 BAFTAs and 3 Golden Globes.(imdb)

5. From Here To Eternity
Award-winning depiction of a group of soldiers stationed in Hawaii in the languid days building up to Pearl Harbour, starring Burt Lancaster and Frank Sinatra. The film focuses on the group caught up in their own personal struggles and relationships. Considered very daring for the 1950s, the most iconic scene is the late night tryst of Lancaster and Deborah Kerr by the crashing waves on the beach.(imdb)

6. The English Patient
Tragic romance tale of Canadian nurse (Juliette Binoche) caring for a wounded soldier (Ralph Fiennes) known only as ‘the English patient’ who has no recollection of his identity. The story is told in flashbacks and deals with love, fate and healing. It won 9 Academy Awards including Best Picture.(imdb)

7. The Pianist
Directed by Roman Polanksi, The Pianist tells the story of a Jewish piano player on a solo mission to survive in the emptied Polish ghetto. A truly inspiring portrayal of one man’s determination against the odds. Adrian Brody was awarded the Oscar for Best Actor (the youngest yet at 29) although he is mute almost throughout the film.(imdb)

8. Casablanca
Hollywood melodrama set in wartime Morocco. Humphrey Bogart, an American ex-pat running the local bar, is reunited with a former lover (Ingrid Bergman). He must then choose between his love for her and his fight against the Nazis in aiding her husband, a Czech resistance leader, to flee. The film was rushed into release to coincide with the Allied invasion of North Africa and the capture of Casablanca.

9. Sarah’s Key
Follows the investigations of a modern-day journalist into the Vel d’Hiv Round-up (when thousands of Jews living in Paris were sent to Auschwitz.) Kristen Scott Thomas, the journalist, finds her life entwined with that of a young victim of the round-up when she moves into the girl’s former home.(imdb)

Look Out For Sophie’s Review of Sarah’s Key Tomorrow and remember if you haven’t done so far to enter into the competition to win a copy of the film

Sarah’s Key is on DVD and Blu-Ray 28th November 2011.