St Kilda Blues by Geoffrey McGeachin (Penguin, 2014); audiobook read by David Tredinnick (Playaway, 2014) Though the investigation itself is commonplace, McGeachin immerses his protagonist in the details of history, presenting a time capsule of Australian—in particular, Melburnian—culture in the late 1960s. Stolid ex-WWII bomber pilot Charlie Berlin shows mettle worthy of the character study.
The Great Dictator dir. Charlie Chaplin (1940) A political satire that, even at the time, carried a poignance well beyond its surface humour. Chaplin, playing a Jewish barber Hitler lookalike, struck an uneasy but quite brilliant balance between serious filmmaking (Chaplin the writer-director) and comic business (Chaplin the actor).
Reach for the Sky: The Story of Douglas Bader DSO, DFC by Paul Brickhill (W. W. Norton & Company, 1954); audiobook read by Robert Hardy (Chivers, 1991/2010) Brickhill is firmly eulogistic (though not without cause) in detailing the extraordinary feats of double-amputee fighter pilot Douglas Bader, and also something of English life itself in the interwar period and during World…
SS-GB, Series 1 created by Len Deighton (BBC, 2017) In the alternative history of 1941, England is occupied by Nazi Germany. Though nominally independent, Scotland Yard detective Douglas Archer must reconcile his place working for the oppressors. A realistically conceived historical drama that plays to its strengths, unconstrained by audience expectations.
The Great Escape by Paul Brickhill (Faber & Faber, 1951) Brickhill’s eyewitness description of the infamous tunnel break from German POW camp Stalag Luft III — enshrined still further by the film of 1963 — remains a sincere and clearly written record, and a lasting testament to its protagonists’ spirit, ingenuity and sheer perseverance.
The Bletchley Circle, Series 1 by Guy Burt (ITV, 2012) Seven years after WWII, four women who worked in codebreaking at Bletchley Park reunite to investigate a spree of unsolved murders. This miniseries, driven by its all-female lead cast, adds to the illustrious list of cleverly scripted, beautifully realised British period dramas.
Foyle’s War, Series 8 by Anthony Horowitz (ITV, 2015) A concluding trio of diligently researched, well-realised feature-length mysteries set within and inextricably bound to English society (originally during, now) post- World War II. Michael Kitchen remains facially expressive as Foyle, working for MI5 amidst the early machinations of the Cold War.
Doctor Who: The Nemonite Invasion by David Roden (BBC Audio, 2009) Donna is afforded some romance but this WWII base under siege story is otherwise unremarkable; worse, its narrative throws off sparks of cliché and relies on the Doctor having wilfully unleashed an already contained menace (which he then — brainwave — seeks to re-contain).
Newsfront dir. Phillip Noyce (1978) The tagline suggests humour but this sombre, almost melancholic biopic of (archetypal) newsreel cameramen working in Australia during World War II and the decade subsequent, bolstered by archival footage, serves more as a time capsule of life in a young, not-so-modern country.
The Great Escape dir. John Sturges (1963) Whereas old movies often seem ponderously dated to modern viewers, this World War II POW drama uses pacing to good advantage and — half a century on, no less — remains a genuine classic: an ensemble cast tour de force of British film actors.