Selected Documentaries, Movies, & Television Series on the First World War

Documentaries, Movies, and Television Series

 

It is the task of every student and teacher to analyze the listed documentaries, movies, and television series critically. Especially – but not only – some of the older productions in the chronologically organized overview are, according to contemporary standards, not politically correct, biased, and sometimes overtly racist and sexist.

We nevertheless included these films to foster important discussions in the classroom about the historical change in the construction and perception of war in film and its intersection with notions of class, race and gender. Therefore, all films need to be seen and studied critically as a reflection of the time of their production, including more recent movies. A good introduction into the study of the history of movies and critical film analysis is:

 

Especially interesting films for the subject of gender and war are marked with an *.

 

Documentaries

 

(United States, PBS & WGBH, 1998) (53 m)
Director: Bill Treharne Jones

The second part of the PBS & WGBH Series, People's Century, is titled Killing Fields: Marching to Glory, Soldiers Face Death on an Industrial Scale in a Ghastly Global War. Directed by Bill Treharne Jones, this film shows how in 1914, a whole generation is drawn into the world's first global conflict. During the ensuing four years, seventy million men from twenty countries would be called upon to serve, and nine million would lose their lives. In Killing Fields, soldiers from all sides remember the trenches and the tactics, the food, the fleas, the casualties, the terrible nature and scale of the slaughter that shattered the old world order.
PBS Website
PBS Website of The People’s Century Series
You Tube

 

(France, Lagardère, 2016) (1h 33 m)
Directors: Fabien Beziat and Hugues Nancy

This French documentary traces the overlapping journeys of exceptional French and European women who were swept up in World War I, women like Marie Curie, Edith Wharton, Mata Hari, and Rosa Luxemburg. It explores the situation of women at different home fronts of the Central and Allied Powers, including their involvement in war work in agriculture, administration and industry, their patriotic war charity, and their war support close to the front lines as auxiliaries, doctors and nurses. It shows that some women in Russia were even fighting as soldiers in their own battalions.
Netflix
IMDb
Lagardère Website

 

Movies
 

(United States, 1930) (original: 2h 32m, restored: 2h 18m)
Director: Lewis Milestone

All Quiet on the Western Front is a 1930 American anti-war film based on the German novel, Im Westen Nichts Neues (1929), by Erich Maria Remarque (1898-1970). Directed by Lewis Milestone, the film won two Oscars for Best Director and Outstanding Production. It tells the story of a German high school class that follows the call of their teacher to volunteer to serve in the war. The group of volunteering students, led by Paul Baumer (played by Lew Ayres), join the German army as the new 2nd Company. Their romantic delusions are destroyed during their brief but rigorous training, as well as the deadly experience of war at the Western Front.
Trailer
IMDb
Wikipedia

 

(Germany, 1930) (original: 1h 37m, cut: 1h 15m)
Director: Georg Wilhelm Papst

Westfront 1918 is a German film from 1930, directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst and based on the novel, Vier von der Infanterie, by Ernst Johannsen. It is set mostly in the trenches of the Western Front during World War I and focuses on the impact of the war on a group of infantrymen. The film bears resemblance to its close contemporary, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), an American production, although it has a bleaker tone. It was particularly pioneering in its early use of sound, and became known as Pabst's first “talkie,” in which he managed to record live audio during complex tracking shots through the trenches.
Trailer
IMDb
Wikipedia

 

(Germany, 1933) (1h 35 m)
Director: Victor Sewell

This German World War I movie directed by Victor Sewell tells the story of Captain Liers, commander of a German submarine that is leaving his hometown. His two brothers were already killed in action, so his mother is reluctant to see him leave. While on patrol, Liers and his crew sink a British armored cruiser, but are then attacked by a sub trap on their way back to the harbor. They sink the trap, but are then sunk by the trap’s armed destroyer. The sub lays on the sea bed at 200 feet, and except for the bridge, it is full of water. Ten members of the crew survive, but there are only eight rescue devices. Liers orders his crew to use the devices, but they refuse: either all survive or no one does.
Trailer
IMDb
Wikipedia

 

(United States, 1957) (1h 28m)
Director: Stanley Kubrick

Paths of Glory is a 1957 American anti-war film directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on the novel of the same name by Humphrey Cobb (1899–1944). Set during World War I, the film stars Kirk Douglas as the French Colonel Dax, commanding officer, 701st Infantry Regiment. Three of his soldiers refuse to continue a suicidal attack and are court-martialed. Dax, who was a criminal defense lawyer in civilian life, volunteers to defend the men at their court-martial, but the trial is a farce. In his closing statement, Dax denounces the proceedings: “Gentlemen of the court, to find these men guilty would be a crime to haunt each of you till the day you die.” Nonetheless, the three men are sentenced to death.
Trailer
IMDb
Wikipedia

 

(United Kingdom, Canada, 1997) (1h 54 m)
Director: Gillies MacKinnon

Based on Pat Barker's 1991 novel, Regeneration, this film follows the stories of a number of officers in the British Army during World War I who are brought together in Craiglockhart War Hospital to be treated for various physical and mental war traumas. It features the story of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, two of England's most important World War I poets. Sassoon sends an open letter to the British newspaper, The Times, criticizing the conduct of the war and the unnecessary sacrifice of so many men at the front lines.
Trailer
IMDb
Wikipedia

 

(United States, 1999) (1h 38m)
Director: William Boyd

In this psychological drama, director William Boyd takes viewers into the minds and emotions of the young British soldiers who are preparing to fight in what will later be known as the Battle of the Somme, one of the deadliest battles in modern history. Britain lost more soldiers in the first day of this battle than any other in its military history. The film is a powerful rendering of those overwhelmingly young soldiers at the epicenter of the Great War and the enormous psychological toll the war had on them.
Trailer
IMDb
Wikipedia

 

(France, United States, 2004) (2h 14m)
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

In this French romance drama directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, a young French woman, Mathilde, is determined to find her fiancé, who has been missing and declared dead since disappearing during the Battle of the Somme from July to November 1916. Mathilde refuses to believe that he is gone and starts an investigation, which uncovers much more than she’d expected, including a heartless state-sponsored execution procedure for court-martialed soldiers. As Mathilde tries to determine the circumstances of her lover's death, the film explores the life of soldiers on the front along with the life of their next of kin at the home front.
Trailer
IMDb
Wikipedia

 

(France, 2005) (1h 56m)
Director: Christian Carion

Nominated for best foreign language film at the 74th Academy Awards, Joyeux Noël (translated as Merry Christmas), directed by Christian Carion, depicts the remarkable true events of December 1914, when soldiers from both sides laid down their weapons and met in the middle of no-man’s land to celebrate Christmas together. After this pseudo truce, they returned to killing each other, and the film delves deep into the tragic irony of this event as a larger reflection of the four-year ordeal of the First World War.
Trailer
IMDb
Wikipedia

 

(United Kingdom, 2015) (2h 9m)
Director: James Kent

In 1933, Vera Brittain (1893-1970) published her renowned autobiography, Testament of Youth, in which she recounted her experiences as a British Volunteer Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse in World War I. As an upper-middle class woman, she studied at Oxford University Summerville College before the war and volunteered for the VAD after her brother, her fiancé, and their childhood friend went to the Front. She ultimately is forced to mourn the loss of all three. In 2015, director James Kent turned the autobiography into a critically acclaimed film starring Alicia Vikander as Brittain. The film is a searing and poignant portrayal of the “lost generation,” and Alicia Vikander effectively conveys the agony and outrage Brittain expressed in her autobiography as she reflects on the tragedies in both her personal life caused by the war and for her generation as a whole.
Trailer
IMDb
Wikipedia

 

(United States, 2016) (2h 15m)
Director: Terry George

This epic war drama portrays life in Istanbul during World War I and the accompanying dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, including the Armenian genocide (1915–17). Starring Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac, and Charlotte Le Bon, the film raises important questions about ethnic tensions and violence that erupted with the fall of the empire, resulting in thousands of deaths and irrevocably altered lives.
Trailer
IMDb
Wikipedia

 

(United States, United Kingdom 2019) (2h)
Director: Sam Mendes

Directed by Sam Mendes, this film tells the story of two young British soldiers during the First World War who are ordered to deliver a message calling off an ill-advised attack soon after the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, the German defense position built during the winter of 1916–17 on the Western Front, during the German Operation Alberich in February and March 1917. This message is especially important to one of the young soldiers, as his brother is taking part in the pending attack. It is based in part on an account told to Mendes by his paternal grandfather, Alfred Mendes.
Trailer
IMDb
Wikipedia

 

Television Series
 

(Australia, ABC, 2014) (6 episodes a 60m)
Directors: Ken Cameron and Ian Watson

Based on Peter Rees’ 2008 Book, The Other ANZACS, the series Anzac Girls is an Australian six-part television drama program first screened on Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in 2014. It tells the true story of nurses serving with the Australian Army Nursing Service during World War I. The women served through the Gallipoli campaign in Alexandria, Gallipoli, at Lemnos, and on the war’s Western Front.
Trailer
IMDb
Wikipedia

 

(United Kingdom, BBC, 2014) (6 episodes a 60m)
Directors: David Evans, Richard Clark and Thaddeus O’Sullivan

This six-part British drama television series, written by one of British television’s most exciting and original writers, was broadcasted on BBC One in 2014. The series portrays the lives of medics and the patients at a field hospital in France during World War I. In the tented hospital on the coast of France, a team of doctors, nurses, and women volunteers work together to heal the bodies and souls of men wounded in the trenches.
Trailer
PBS website
IMDb
Wikipedia