6 of the best WWII movies and series to stream
World War II, a short history: Germany, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, invaded Austria on 1 September 1939. Until 1941, Germany controlled most of Europe. Actually, I see now there is no short history; the whole world was at war until May 1945. It was horrible.
The fascination remains, and streaming platforms have numerous documentaries about this terrible time. There are also more than a few dramatic accounts. Here are some of the best.
Anne Frank Parallel Stories (Netflix)
One of the most enduring stories and faces of the war, and the persecution of the Jews, is the diary of a young girl, who spent 761 days hidden in a secret annexe on the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam, along with seven other people. Helen Mirren narrates and hosts this tribute to Annelies Marie Frank (1929 – 1945), interspersed with other survivors of the Holocaust, who were children at the time. Time has not diluted the horror.
“This is a story we must never forget. We are beginning to lose the generation of people who are living witness of what happened in Europe in those terrible days, and so it’s all the more important to keep the memory alive looking into the future,” says Mirren.
It is through connecting these past tragedies with the present that the film finds itself able to properly address the racism and discrimination which still exists today, says the Stylist.
This series has been referred to as a “sequel” to Wolfgang Petersen’s 1981 film (see below) as the action takes place some months after the original setting. However, this time it’s not restricted to the claustrophobic interior of a submarine; there is a secondary story running on land. While we have the almost unbearable tension under the surface of the sea, the two threads are connected via Simone Strasser (Vicki Krieps) and her brother Frank (Leonard Scheicher), a crew member on U-612.
As with any good WWII yarn, there are spies and double agents, and the resistance, in this case, is headed by American ex-pat Carla Monroe (Lizzy Caplan – Masters Of Sex, and Castle Rock season two), who has a fondness for morphine.
Das Boot (Netflix)
This is an interesting companion piece on this list. It’s tied to the series (see above) as well as Greyhound (see below), in that between those two you get to see both sides of the Battle Of The Atlantic, in which battleships and destroyers were pitted against the German U-boats – above the surface and below.
Das Boot (The Boat) the film is just more than two hours of edge-of-your-seat drama, as the crew go through just about every disaster a submarine can encounter, from storms to depth charges, to taking on water when there is no place to bail it out. Think about that for a moment.
This movie, and the series on Showmax, are German with English subtitles
Greyhound (Apple TV)
It’s always so rewarding when your suspicions are confirmed. Well, most of the time. In this case, I was about to begin by saying this is such a perfect Tom Hanks film, it’s as if he wrote it himself. It turns out he did, adapting the screenplay from the 1955 novel, The Good Shepherd by CS Forester.
(Fun fact: Hanks is a published author of a volume of short stories titled Uncommon Type, in which typewriters are a recurring motif.)
In this movie, he plays Commander Ernest Krause, on his first crossing to Great Britain, with a convoy of supply ships. During this voyage, air support is provided within range of departure and arrival, but for several hours in between, there is nothing between the ships and the German U-boats which hunt them relentlessly. It was known as the Black Pit, and it’s the centre of the movie. There’s a bit of quiet at either end (like when there’s air cover) but the rest of it in the middle is action, action, action. With Hanks involved, there’s obviously a bit of emotion and sentimentality too.
Look out for Stephen Graham as Commander Krause’s XO (executive officer). You’ll know him from Boardwalk Empire where he played Al Capone, as well as Line Of Duty. He is, in fact, English not American. Greyhound is the largest opening weekend release in the short history of this streaming service.
Land Girls (Netflix)
With three seasons running from 2009 till 2011, this series was commissioned by the BBC to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of WWII, and revolves around four characters doing their bit for the war effort through the Women’s Land Army. The WLA placed women – or “land girls” as they were known back in that un-PC time – on farms to help out with agricultural work while the men were away fighting on the frontlines. Food farming was of course, just as critical as bombs and bullets.
“It’s a warmhearted and inspiring World War II period drama about solidarity and courage in the face of adversity,” says Willow & Thatch, a review site for period dramas.
The Imitation Game (Netflix)
This brilliant film earned Benedict Cumberbatch an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Alan Turing, the man credited with cracking the German Enigma code. The importance of the film is twofold: not only did Turing’s work significantly shorten WWII and save thousands of lives at the time, but it was also the forerunner of modern computers, and the tragedy of Turing was his closeted homosexuality at a time when it was outlawed.
Despite his heroic contributions to the war effort, Turing was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, and being a true historical story it’s not really a spoiler to say he committed suicide because of this. Too terrible.