Friday, 27 September 2019

Another Bridge Too Far?

The Tactical Painter recently published a great post with many good points on Richard Attenborough's 'hidden' message in A Bridge Too Far, and many of them I gladly take on board. It retriggered a train of thought that started last weekend, as I cycled with my friend Diederick from Arnhem to Oosterbeek and then on via Driel and Oosterhout to Nijmegen. We discussed why no one had attempted a new movie about Operation Market Garden recently (it being over 40 years since ABTF).

The church tower at Driel


I figured there is ample room for different perspectives. Quite a lot was left out in ABTF and a lot of time was 'wasted' on episodes that do not drive the grand narrative (eg Dohun/Eddie) but only make sense in light of Attenborough's ulterior motives, as The Tactical Painter shows (I think quite convincingly. You really should read that bit).

And in a sense, the episodes from Band of Brothers relating to Market Garden are one of those possible perspectives. Those combat scenes are excellent. And that is one way to do it, focussing on a part rather than the whole.

And there's so much more to play with. In ABTF there's hardly any time for the vital cutting of Hell's Highway at the crisis of the battle and 101st's US Airborne role in general.

Or what to think of the desperate fights on the 18th and 19th September by the Para's to get into Arnhem? This is where the back of the division was broken, but not always in the best performance. It somehow gets swept up in the Urquhart story in ABTF.

Polish Information Point in Driel

And I guess there might shortly be a Polish movie on Sosabowki's efforts (if there hasn't been one already). His role fits seemlessly into the political narrative of the present Polish government, with the Poles as heroic liberators that are being scapegoated by devious foreigners.

And by the way, where is Monty in all this? Only referenced in archive material.



But some of the most intreaguing choices Attenborough made are on the German side (and this is where I disagree with the Tactical Painter a bit). Rather than as simple foils, I think Attenborough made a conscious decision to only focus on the SS. They are portrayed as tough and ruthless, also probably as a counterpoint to the British lackadaisical approach.

Graebner, the commander of the SS reconnaissance battallion that gets shot up trying to cross the Arnhem bridge, is on the other hand the classic German puppet officer, who hardly utters a word, refusing even to scream as he burns to death.

The German commander in chief, Field Marshal Model, is portrayed as egotistic and incompetent, refusing to blow the bridge in Nijmegen until it is too late. Given Model's experience and competent handling of the German countereffort, this is inaccurate, so Attenborough might have wanted to pose him as a mirror image of Browning.

Looking towards Nijmegen from the spot where 504 PIR crossed the Waal

But nothing about the kampfgruppen on the west of Arnhem holding up the Para's advance, or the motley force commanded by Von Tettau. Nothing on Student, Walther or Chill mounting the vital counterattacks against the corridor. Equally competent to their SS colleagues but somehow showing the Germans as masters of improvisation and very average quality fighting troops didn't fit with the narrative lionising the allied troops. I think a modern movie might focus on them more and show the Germans as more human.


But what would a new movie look like? Another star studded epic involving the cream of international actors? Perhaps less likely than a combination of the Marvel/Disney universes. Or a new British epic in the light of Dunkirk and Darkest Hour? Or do we leave it to the next generation that will interpret WWII in the light of Brexit and Trump?



ps I tried posting my reaction to the Tactical Painter blog but that didn't work

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