“The Forgotten Battle” is about a postscript to Operation Market Garden, that late World War II gamble by the Allies to free Arnhem, liberate the Netherlands and shorten the war. That’s not “forgotten.” There was a movie about that debacle, “A Bridge Too Far,” that still turns up on grandpa’s favorite cable movie channels.
This Dutch thriller focuses on one corner of that struggle in the fall of 1944, the Battle of the Schledt, the slow motion slugfest to uproot the Germans from the Scheldt River banks and islands around it so that the huge port of Antwerp could be used to shorten supply lines for the Allies, also an attempt to “shorten the war.”
Where “A Bridge too Far” was a sprawling, all-star film affair, “Forgotten Battle” is a comparatively tidy tale, focusing on a single Dutch family, troops and glider pilots stranded after being shot down on their way to Arhem, and the never-say-die Nazis, rounding up civilians and Resistance fighters, torturing and murdering them even as they had to realize their cause was lost, and in the case of the main German character, unjust and evil as well.
Susan Radder is Teuntje, a secretary to the collaborationist mayor of one of the towns of Walcheren Island. And lest she look smug as the mayor (Hajo Bruins) burns incriminating photos and documents, her “You father works for the Germans, yes?” Her Dad is the town physician. But her 20ish brother (Ronald Kalter) is running around, taking pictures and more for The Resistance.
That puts him and others under threat.
Marinus (Gijs Blom) is a Dutch-German soldier, disillusioned by National Socialism and the war he’s seen. He meets a combat-crippled officer in hospital who reinforces his doubts.
William (Jamie Flatters) is a hot-dogging young glider pilot, son of an RAF higher-up, somebody his D-Day tested superior (Tom Felton of the Harry Potter movies) and co-pilot hopes won’t screw up when Market Garden’s troop drops begin.
Over a few days in early October, their glider is shot down, Teuntje becomes actively involved in trying to save her brother, even if that means helping the Resistance and Canadian troops push into the region determined to root the Germans out of their shipping-threatening gun emplacements.
World War II films cannot avoid the tropes of the European part of that conflict — murderous Nazi occupiers, brave Resistance spies and saboteurs, ordinary infantry caught up in the maelstrom of combat and horrors of “total war.”
But screenwriters Paula van der Oest and Pauline van Mantgem go easy on the melodrama and heavy on the certainty as fatalistic pilots, resigned-to-their-fate infantry and numbed, shell-shocked civilians struggling to “negotiate” with these armed men who have been there long enough for the two sides to get to know one another.
Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., who did the Mary Elizabeth Winstead version of “The Thing,” stages spectacular, chaotic (hand-held cameras) firefights where the slaughter is so in-your-face you might find yourself ducking.
The grey chill of fall hangs over everything as downed fliers wade through flooded fields, soldiers scramble into foxholes and civilians struggle to stay out of everybody with a gun’s way, and fail.
Everybody looks a tad too well fed for this to be an utterly convincing recreation of that period of the conflict in the Netherlands. But the cast is sharp, fleshing out character “types” into flesh-and-blood people we recognize. Blom’s haunted, guilty gaze sticks with you, every hand-to-hand fight has desperation and every death has weight and meaning.
That’s all we really want out of combat films anyway, that sense of the swirl and slaughter of history and reasons to believe the characters we’re watching know they may be sacrificed and don’t want to go willingly, even as they hope their efforts won’t be in vain.
Rating: TV-MA, graphic combat violence
Cast: Susan Radder, Jamie Flatters, Gijs Blom, Ronald Kalter, Justus von Dohnányi and Tom Felton
Credits: Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., scripted by Paula van der Oest and Pauline van Mantgem. A Neflix release.
Running time: 2:04
I thought the film was good, becoming pretty impactful by the end
It’s a great film.
“Black Book” and “Soldier of Orange” were better.But a good genre picture I thought.