‘My Grandparents’ War’ is a poignant WWII series

Released in 2019 to commemorate the 80th year of the beginning of WWII, the documentary series is presented by four acclaimed British actors sharing their own search for a piece of family history.

Each of the four one-hour episode is a moving, personal discovery as the acclaimed actors retrace their grandparents’ wartime footsteps. All of them appear in natural situ, devoid of showy costume or make-up but instead, wrapped in authenticity. A remarkable documentary series.

What’s in common is the intriguing fact that these grandchildren had known little about the wartime happening or even heroics of their grandparents until now, and the main reason is due to the older generation’s own reticence about their experience in a traumatic chapter of their life. This in itself is poignant and revealing.

Episode 1 – Mark Rylance

From Shakespearean drama to Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, stage and film actor Mark Rylance discovers a real-life horror story as he ponders the facts and conditions of his grandfather Osmond Skinner as a Prisoner of War in Hong Kong. He travels to the former British colony and walks the path and talks to those who show him records, and meeting the daughter of his grandfather’s fellow prisoner. Views from both sides of the war are presented.

Episode 2 – Kristin Scott Thomas

Kristin Scott Thomas’s grandfather was Royal Navy Captain William Scott Thomas whose heroics include a crucial role in the Dunkirk evacuation and D-Day, as well as the arduous and deadly missions of the Arctic Convoy to transport supplies to Russia. A moving personal journey as she learns the facts and visits Dunkirk to meet a descendant of an evacuee. The tragic death of Kristin’s pilot father in a plane crash when she was young could have severed a link between grandfather and grandchildren in terms of war stories.

Episode 3 – Carey Mulligan

Carey Mulligan’s grandfather Denzil Booth was just a teenager from Wales when he was fast-tracked to join the Navy. He was A radar operator on a war ship when it was hit by a Kamikaze plane. Touching moments when she goes searching for the details of her grandfather’s ship and conflicting emotions when she finds out the truths about the pilots of these Kamikaze missions when she sets foot in Japan.

Episode 4 – Helena Bonham Carter

While they did not actively fight in the battlefield, both sides of Helena Bonham Carter’s grandparents had performed remarkable heroics during the War. Her maternal grandparents were Jews living in Paris. During the Holocaust, Helena’s grandfather used his Spanish diplomatic influence to save thousands of Jews. While in England, her paternal grandmother was an activist denouncing anti-semitism and was marked by the Nazi’s to be eliminated once they took over. An uplifting episode.

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples


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My Grandparents’ War is now on CBC Gem. If you’re in Canada, it’s free download. Here’s the link to the trailer. If you’re not in Canada, try to find this documentary series. A must-see.

Related Posts on the Pacific Front in WWII:

WWII Comfort Women Speak Out in The Apology

The Railway Man: Movie Review

The Railway Man by Eric Lomax: Book Review

Canada Reads 2018: Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto

The King’s Speech (2010)

CLICK HERE to read my new post ‘Oscar Winners 2011’

Update Feb. 27, 2011: The King’s Speech just won 4 OSCARS: Best Picture, Best Director Tom Hooper, Best Actor Colin Firth, Best Original Screenplay David Seidler.

Update Feb. 13, 2011: The King’s Speech just won 7 BAFTA’s: Best Film, British Film of the Year, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor & Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Music.

Update Jan. 30, 2011: The King’s Speech just won the Best Cast in a motion picture and Colin Firth Best Actor at the Screen Actors Guild Awards tonight.

Update Jan. 30, 2011: Tom Hooper just won the Directors Guild Award.

Update Jan. 17, 2011: Colin Firth just won the Best Actor Golden Globe last night. To read his acceptance speech, click here.

Colin Firth must be feeling the pressure now.  I don’t mean the likely Oscar contention.  I mean, how is he going to surpass himself in his next film?  That’s the trouble with having reached your career best, so far.

But that is not going to be an issue at this point, because it is in celebratory mode right now, yes, even before the Oscars.

The King’s Speech first premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, 2010, and won the audience award.  Since then, it has seen more and more accolades.  At present, the film has been nominated for seven Golden Globes and four SAG Awards on this side of the Atlantic.  Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter have all won their acting categories at the British Independent Film Awards in December, with David Seidler seizing Best Screenplay, and the movie garnered the Best British Independent Film Award.

A moving real life story about the struggle of King George VI (Colin Firth) to overcome a life-long stammer, as he was reluctantly crowned king after his older brother King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) abdicated the throne in 1936 for love of an American divorcee.  Bertie, as his family called him, was fortunate to have a devoted and loving wife (Helena Bonham Carter), who found him an unconventional speech therapist from Australia, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).  The film builds on the development of their friendship leading to the exhilarating climax at the end, when the King gives his first war-time speech to his nation, rousing up their support against Germany.

It all began with screenwriter David Seidler being evacuated out of Britain to America upon an imminent Nazi attack at the brink of WWII.  To the then three-year-old Seidler, the treacherous trans Atlantic ordeal was so devastating that in his subsequent childhood years after arriving America, he had to struggle with a debilitating stammer.  During the war years, he had listened on the radio to the speeches by King George VI, whom he learned was a fellow stutterer.  With the King as a model, Seidler was motivated to overcome his own stammer.

The idea of telling the true story of his personal hero remained with Steidler for decades. He had been doing research on the King and found the son of his speech therapist Lionel Logue, Valentine, who had preserved his father’s notes.  As a loyal ex-subject, Steidler wrote the Queen Mother requesting her approval to use her late husband’s story for a movie.  The following was the reply from Clarence House, the official residence of the Prince of Wales:

“Dear Mr. Seidler, thank you very much for your letter, but, please, not during my lifetime.  The memory of those events is still too painful”

The Queen Mother passed away in 2002, at the age of 101.  Seidler could now publicly work on a story that had captivated him all his life.  But the Royal Family needs not worry.  The screenplay that Seidler has written, and the film that ultimately comes out from director Tom Hooper is every bit dignified, respectful and artistically executed.  What more, the very human suffering and the exhilaration of overcoming an impediment are movingly told.  Overall, the film is a poignant portrayal of a courageous man, a beautiful friendship, and a loving family.

Colin Firth has presented to us a reluctant hero, won us over from the start with his vulnerability and insignificance, and kept us on his side with his perseverance and loyalty.  As the Queen Mother had put it, it is painful to watch him struggle to be heard.  The walk to the microphone, then an advancement in technology, is as grim as the dead man walking to his execution. No wonder there is the Brahms’ Requiem.

In an interview, Seidler mentions how Firth had asked him for specifics on the stuttering experience, and strived to live it in his performance. Powerful method acting indeed as Firth found himself so involved in the role that he had experienced tongue-tied episodes at public speaking.  Click here to listen to the in-depth interview with David Seidler at Stutter Talk. For a pre-Oscar interview with Seidler, Click Here to find the link to a BBC news clip.

Geoffrey Rush is the crucial partner in the bromance.  Without his devotion and humour, the relationship between therapist and client could not have risen to the level of trusting friendship necessary for effective treatment.  It is not a cure, but the breaking down of barriers, psychological and social.  Herein lies one important element of the film’s success, humour.  We are treated with lighthearted moments in the midst of struggles, unleashing the humanity to shine through.

As for the music. First off, I must say I’ve enjoyed the original music by Alexandre Desplat.  The timing and editing is particularly effective, an example is the rehearsal scene.  But the reverberations have been the selections of German music, in particular, Beethoven’s 7th second movement the Allegretto being used at the climatic King’s speech.  My view is that the war was against Nazism, the tyranny and atrocity committed by Hitler and his regime.  Considering Beethoven’s struggles with his own hearing loss, and his vision of freedom and brotherhood, he could well be a universal symbol of resistance and resilience, significant beyond national boundaries. And who can protest against the lofty and hauntingly moving Allegretto.  I’d say, good choice of music for the climax.  And after that, the mutual look between the two friends into each other’s eyes with the warm, soothing slow movement of the Emperor Concerto, what better way to end the movie.

What better way to start the new year.

~~~ 1/2 Ripples

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To read my post Oscar Winners 2011 CLICK HERE

To read my post on the book The King’s Speech: How One Man Saved The British Monarchy by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi, CLICK HERE To “The King’s Speech: Fact and Fiction”

To listen to the historical archive of the actual speech by King George VI, click here.

For a review and critique of the music in The King’s Speech:

‘The Music of The King’s Speech’

Movie Music UK: Alexandre Desplat

Mary Kunz Goldman, music critic

To read a detailed Colin Firth Interview

To see a video clip of Colin Firth interviewed at TIFF