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VE Day: War films a reminder of debt to a generation

VE Day is nearly upon us, so we asked the film experts from MetFilm School based at the world-famous Ealing Studios, which top Second World War films they would recommend to entertain and enlighten us on the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe tomorrow.

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Kenneth Branagh in a scene from "Dunkirk." (Melissa Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP).
This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Kenneth Branagh in a scene from "Dunkirk." (Melissa Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP).

Jonny Persey, film producer and Director at MetFilm School said: “I know the national celebration for the 75th anniversary of VE Day is going to be somewhat different to what most of us expected.

"I don’t think a global lockdown was on anyone’s horizon. But, with the ability to watch almost any film we want to see these days, we thought we’d share what we consider the best Second World War-inspired films to watch for the bank holiday weekend.

“It was a tough job. Narrowing the selection down to just 10 was really difficult, but I think we’ve come up with a cracking selection.

“Our top picks include British classics, box office hits, old familiars, non-traditional choices and one from the German point of view.”

Most of the films can be found on streaming or online sites and many offer a very thought-provoking view of the motives and impact of warfare.

Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour

Starring: Gary Oldman, Lily James and Kristin Scott Thomas.

In May 1940, the fate of World War II hangs on Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Adolf Hitler, or fight on knowing that it could mean the end of the British Empire.

This film was partly filmed at Ealing Studios and won Gary Oldman an Oscar for his leading performance as the Prime Minister.

A fantastic watch that concentrates on the political pressure Churchill was under in the lead up to the war.

The Imitation Game

Starring: Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch.

During World War II, the English mathematical genius Alan Turing tries to crack the German Enigma code with help from fellow mathematicians.

It won an Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar and shines a much-deserved light on the work of those based at Bletchley Park and a posthumous tribute to the genius of Turing.


Starring: Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance and Harry Styles.

Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire, and France are surrounded by the German Army, and evacuated during a fierce battle in the Second World War.

Dunkirk portrays the evacuation from three perspectives: land, sea, and air. It has little dialogue, as director Christopher Nolan sought instead to create suspense from cinematography and music.

It is an often terrifying assault on the senses.


In Which We Serve

Starring: Noël Coward and John Mills.

This ‘story of a ship’, the British destroyer H.M.S. Torrin, is told in flashbacks by survivors as they cling to a life raft.

It was made in 1942, during the Second World War, with the assistance of the Ministry of Information.

The screenplay by Coward was inspired by the exploits of Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten, who was in command of the destroyer HMS Kelly when it was sunk during the Battle of Crete.

Bridge On The River Kwai

Starring: Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins.

British POWs are forced to build a railway bridge across the River Kwai for their Japanese captors.

The 1957 epic war film, directed by David Lean and based on the 1952 novel written by Pierre Boulle, won seven Oscars including Best Picture.

The film uses the historical setting of the harrowing construction of the Burma Railway in 1942 to 1943.

The Great Escape

The Great Escape

Starring: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough.

Allied prisoners of war plan for several hundred of their number to escape from a German camp.

The film is based on Paul Brickhill’s 1950 non-fiction book, a first-hand account of the mass escape by British Commonwealth prisoners of war from German POW camp Stalag Luft III in Sagan, now Zagan, Poland.

The film was based on real events but deviated from the historical record, depicting a heavily fictionalised version of the escape, including numerous compromises such as featuring Americans among the escapees.

The Longest Day

Starring: John Wayne and Robert Mitchum.

The events of D-Day, told on a grand scale from both the Allied and German points of view. The Longest Day was filmed in 1962 and is based on Cornelius Ryan’s 1959 non-fiction of the same name.

The film was produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, who paid author Ryan $175,000 for the film rights. The film won two Academy Awards and was nominated for three others.

A colourised version of this film was released on VHS in 1994, the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, but it is still best watched in the original monochrome.



Starring: Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara and Ulrich Matthes.

Downfall is a really powerful film and one of the very few told from the German point of view.

It’s the story of Hitler’s final days in his Berlin bunker at the end of WWII.

Filmed in 2004 and directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel it was nominated for best foreign language film at the Oscars.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Starring: David Thewlis and Sheila Hancock.

Through the innocent eyes of Bruno, the eight-year-old son of the commandant at a German concentration camp, a forbidden friendship with a Jewish boy on the other side of the camp fence has startling and unexpected consequences.

A British film with BBC involvement, the film has drawn criticism from some Holocaust educators for its factual inaccuracy.

But it is a subtle and powerful portrayal of the horrors of the camp and with John Boyne’s novel of the same name on the national curriculum it is watched by millions of teenagers every year.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Charlotte Gray

Starring: Cate Blanchett, James Fleet, Abigail Cruttenden

A young Scottish woman joins the French Resistance to rescue her Royal Air Force boyfriend who is lost in France.

The story is based on the exploits of women in Britain’s Special Operations Executive who worked with the French resistance in Nazi-occupied France. Filmed in 2001, the fictional character Charlotte Gray is a composite based on such SOE agents as Pearl Cornioley, Nancy Wake, Odette Sansom and Violette Szabo.

It won only lukewarm reviews from critics but offers a different view of the war effort.

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