Reviewed by: Tony Sullivan

June 6th 1944 was D-Day, the allied invasion of German occupied Europe. The code name for the operation was Overlord.

In 1962 the all-star, huge budget epic, The Longest Day examined the events of that fateful day from just about every perspective.

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In 1998, Steven Spielberg delivered what might be the last word in World War II films: Saving Private Ryan. Such is the intensity of the opening battle scenes as US troops storm the beaches that the stunned viewer could be forgiven for not noticing the rest of the film.

Made between these two massive undertakings, in 1975, was Stuart Cooper's Overlord. Cooper had a tiny, tiny budget (£125,000) to make his movie but he also had unparalleled access to the archives of the Imperial War Museum in London and its treasure trove of archival footage not to mention authentic 'props'. For two and a half years Cooper and his team combed the archive for the shots they wanted, working, coincidentally, alongside Jeremy Isaacs and his crew who were making what is perhaps the greatest documentary ever - The World At War.

Cooper and co-writer, Christopher Hudson came up with a narrative about a naïve young soldier (Brian Stirner) to weave in and out of the Second World War archive film. Stanley Kubrick's regular cinematographer, John Alcott, filmed all the live footage to as closely match the look and style of the Forties film as possible. All the sound you hear over the original film was added.

The result is a stunning and yet poetic overview of the campaign from basic training to full scale deployment on the Normandy beaches.

BUT as Cooper asks, can you make a war film without an action scene? He has. The only action is contained inside the stock footage.

The war film has gone through many transitions. From the anti-war statements of All Quiet On The Western Front (1929) to the patriotic flag-wavers made during the event itself to the Fifties films that were supportive but made a point to note those that didn't come home. Vietnam changed all that and there was a rash of films that spoke out against the whole concept, culminating in Catch-22 and Johnny Got His Gun. Then there was a spate of films that tried an even handed look at both sides such as Tora, Tora, Tora and A Bridge Too Far. More recently, war films reflect the moral ambivalence of our current world view but charged with a kinetic excitement for battle and celebration of heroes. Overlord has no heroes and tells its story with a weary resignation that lives will be lost without fanfare. This is from the Seventies school of war film that says no matter how noble the cause, there will be a senseless loss of life.

This film had a profound effect on this reviewer when I saw it back in the day. From the love scene that is both erotic and unsettling to the finale that still manages to surprise.

Lyrical and meditative are probably not words you want to hear used to describe a war film these days but Cooper nailed it here and I'd put this film in my top 10.

Reviewed on: 10 Feb 2008
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Archive film interwoven with a narrative about a young soldier in the run up to D-Day.
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Director: Stuart Cooper

Writer: Stuart Cooper, Christopher Hudson

Starring: Brian Stirner, Davyd Harries, Nicholas Ball, Julie Neesam, Sam Sewell, John Franklyn-Robbins, Stella Tanner, Harry Shacklock, David Scheuer, Ian Liston, Lorna Lewis

Year: 1975

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: UK


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