Saturday, 16 November 2013

Almost a century ago....

Sir John Mills as Marshall Haig
[Corrected post due to updated information from Len's biographer Edward Milward-Oliver]

... the First World War broke out. There's been plenty of coverage in the news over the last week and more about the 11 November armistice commemorations and the fact that next year will be the hundredth anniversary of the Great Conflict.

In the context of Len Deighton's historical and fictional work, one normally associates him with the Second World War and also, of course, the 'Cold' War. In communication with him this week we discussed briefly his main artistic contribution relating to the Great War, the 1969 film Oh! What a Lovely War, directed by Richard Attenborough.

Len's in London in December filming a short interview with Edward Milward-Oliver at the Imperial War Museum about his decision as a first-time film producer to make a film version of the original stage version by Joan Littlewood, the famous impresario and director. This video of Len - who's own father was in the Machine Gun corps and severely wounded - will touch briefly on his recollections of the film and motivations for doing so: "I felt it a sacred duty to get it right". The short interview will be shown next year as part of a feature by BBC South East.

For those who haven't seen the film, it is worth watching (you can catch a clip here on YouTube) because the play - and Len's film - seek to give the Tommy's eye view of the conflict - the initial enthusiasm, the patriotism, but then the deflation and the anger with the futility of the conflict and the loss of friends in many cases. It was certainly, Len has reminded me, controversial at the time, coming only 50 years after the end of the conflict when many veterans were still alive, and his determination to present his truth of the conflict apparently created high dudgeon with the establishment at the time.

The film, starring an unrivalled cast list of British greats, is entertaining but also deeply maudlin, as it makes the viewer - through song and drama - ponder the lives of the chaps on the front line and contrast their behaviour with that of the politicians.

1 comment:

  1. It's a pity that the wiki page on the film doesn't have much to say about Len's role in getting the film made. As I understand it, from writing here and elsewhere, Len pretty much bankrolled the whole production. Perhaps it will take publication of Len's biography to set the matter straight.