Lest We Forget
Whether you call it Veterans’ Day (in the USA) or Remembrance Day (Great Britain and Canada), November 11th is a solemn day set aside to acknowledge those who served their country in the military. Originally established to mark the date of the Armistice that ended World War I, the holiday has now expanded to recognize soldiers who fought in all their nations’ wars.
As World War I recedes into the past, it is often overlooked and poorly understood. To remedy that, we’re suggesting films that you can watch with your family to learn more about the “War to End All Wars” and help you focus on November 11th.
Movies for Families with Children
Given the carnage of war, it rarely proves to be a suitable topic for children’s entertainment. However, Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero (PG: Grade: A-) sees the war from a dog’s perspective. The titular hero is a stray when he adopts a young soldier. Determined not to be parted from his human, Stubby follows him to the battlefields of Europe where he becomes the most decorated dog in American military history. This isn’t a good choice for very small children but school-aged kids with an interest in the past should do just fine.
The traumatic after-effects of World War I are depicted in Goodbye Christopher Robin (PG, Grade: A-), a biopic about A.A. Milne, author of the Winnie the Pooh books. In Christopher Robin (PG, Grade: A+), Milne’s fictional boy grows up and finds himself in the trenches before returning home to restart his life. Eventually his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood find him and help him rediscover the joyousness he lost. War scenes are brief in this film, but they are part of the character’s arc.
Movies for Families with Teens
When Albert’s beloved horse is sold to the British cavalry, Albert is determined to be reunited with his friend. With a mix of courage and folly, the boy sets off to the battlefields of France to find his War Horse (PG-13, Grade: A-).
Renowned for his creation of Middle Earth and his series of novels, British author J.R.R. was profoundly affected by his service on the Western Front. Tolkien (PG-13, Grade: A-) is an excellent biopic that traces his early life, his experiences during the Great War, and the impact it had on his life and work.
The contributions of England’s former colonies are often overlooked but Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and India made critical contributions, that not only helped save England but contributed to their own sense of independent nationhood. Gallipoli (PG, Grade: B)tells the story of two Australian sprinters who enlisted in the war, only to find themselves disillusioned in the trenches. Note that this is an older film and the rating should be PG-13; not PG.
If you want to sneak some history into your teen’s entertainment diet, you can try Wonder Woman (PG-13, Grade: B+). This superhero film winds up in war-torn Belgium, with some depictions of trench warfare. This could be enough to spark some interest in the First World War.
Movies for Families with Mature Teens
On occasion, we find Restricted movies that we consider have enough merit to compensate for their negative content. The following productions are powerful depictions of World War I and we believe they will be of interest to mature teens and their parents.
Moving and informative, They Shall Not Grow Old (Restricted, Grade: A-) is a documentary and a passion project. Director Peter Jackson has taken old black and white footage from the war, brought it up to modern frame rates, and colorized it. Without the herky-jerky look of old movies, these reels bring a sense of immediacy to the war. Jackson also hired lipreaders to determine what the soldiers were saying in the shots and then found actors with appropriate regional accents to fill in the dialogue. This is a powerful tribute to the men who fought in the terrible conflict and is well worth watching for older teens and adults.
One of the best films ever made about the Great War, 1917 (Restricted, Grade: C+) is also a dazzling cinematic achievement, shot in astoundingly long takes that provide an immersive feel. This movie definitely places viewers in the heart of the trenches as two British soldiers undertake the delivery of a time-sensitive message that will save thousands of lives. The movie contains some fairly gruesome war violence as well as a fair bit of profanity. But if you want to feel like you’re at the Front, 1917 will take you there.
The ”Christmas truce” of 1914 is one of the better-known events of the war. In the French film Joyeux Noel (PG-13, Grade: B+), this story is told from the perspective of French, German, and Scottish soldiers. (Subtitles are essential unless you’re trilingual.) The movie has strong messages of peace and cooperation but with a fair bit of war violence and a brief moment of sexual nudity, it won’t suit all families.
These films give you somewhere to start in finding movies for your family (or classroom). They ensure that the words of Laurence Binyon’s famous poem are fulfilled:
They shall grow not old,
As we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them,
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
And in the morning,
We will remember them.
We will remember them.