There are several points in this documentary at which a black-and-white still photograph from 1944 dissolves into a fresh, color video clip of the presenter, James Holland, walking or driving along the same road. The chief difference is that in the 1944 picture the lane is littered with dead bodies and wrecked machines. In 2014, the sun shines down on an inviting scene of waving grass, placid trees, and a host of brilliant flowers. The impression I was left with was not gratitude that our side had "won" but rather, "My God, peace is so much better than war."
Holland informs us at the opening that the stereotypical notion of the D-Day landings had the Americans landing against overwhelming fire power while the Brits and Canadians had relatively easy going on the eastern beaches. The strongest German defenses were formed around Omaha beach and the American troops suffered miserably until, by force of will, they overcame the carefully sited pillboxes and advanced inland. Holland is now going to tell us how the cow ate the cabbage.
Holland is sincere enough in his intention to expose the various myths surrounding the landings but in fact, for anyone who has paid attention to World War II, probably the most momentous event of the century, there isn't much new. The stereotypical picture that Holland paints at the beginning is a real enough stereotype and it's pretty much all that many of us know about the battle, and it's mostly drawn from Hollywood -- "The Longest Day" and "Saving Private Ryan", in particular. But the more aware among us realize that the stereotype bears as much resemblance to the historical events as a thumbnail in a PC folder bears to a fully blown and carefully framed visual image.
Holland doesn't pull any punches and some of his observations will no doubt come as a surprise to those who think that Montgomery was strolling towards Caen while the Americans were dying in the bocage, but I doubt that many Americans know enough about the war to believe that Montgomery had anything to do with Caen or that "bocage" wasn't something that might appear on the menu of a fancy restaurant.
I can't agree with the reviewer who feels that more attention should have been paid to the personal experiences of the participants. It's only an hour program and the survivors get their fair share of time. It would have been easy to turn this into a moving remembrance of war. It's been done before. But in this instance Holland has some other points he needs to make -- framed around his distinction between the strategic, the tactical, and the operational levels of war -- and if much of the details of the battle are skipped over, well -- every film has a final second. The most sympathetic and persuasive documentary I've seen on these monstrous days -- the beaches to Falaise -- is from the "Battlefield" series, an episode called "The Battle for Normandy -- The Push For Caen."
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