“I have read several of the best known books on the battle, but have never been there. It is an omission I often feel needs to be remedied. This film has achieved the inevitable and makes me want to go today”. I was happily working my way through this production when my wife came in and watched the last ten minutes or so. She arrived just as a re-enactor was filmed aiming and firing his rifle with a gunshot dubbed rather clumsily on to the soundtrack. “Is this a sixth form project?” she asked. “No”, I told her. “This is the Arnhem DVD.” She made the face she has for being thoroughly unimpressed and said “That is so naff.”  So, I went through a rather defensive explanation, pointing out that she was used to the top end history documentaries where a shiny presenter like Dan Snow is backed up by the kind of serious money that makes television productions easy on the eye with plenty of expensive archive footage, clever graphics and re-enactment scenes. “All these programmes are researched by the kind of people who have made this DVD; they are battlefield guides and dedicated historians.”  She agreed. “The difference is” I continued, “with productions like this; they have to stand in front of the camera.”

My wife’s principal complaint was that the re-enactor looked ‘about twelve’ and it made a totally wrong impression. I asked her how old she thought World War II paratroopers were. They were certainly not twelve, but it was a young man’s game, just as it is today.

In a way, her comments offer the potential for a discussion about the quality of war history DVDs. It is perfectly reasonable to ask questions about the quality and value for money, because I doubt it something that would be covered in Which magazine. The Arnhem DVD comes in at a penny short of twenty quid and, in these thin days this is not an insignificant sum of money. Beyond the issue of subject matter, how do you choose what to buy and what are your opinions on the products?  A website like WHO is in the position to offer constructive feedback to the publishers and give support to the people both in front and behind the camera who make things happen. I don’t think they have a job I could do.

Getting to the matter at hand I have to say I enjoyed this film a great deal. I am someone who wants an easy to follow battlefield guide and the presenters manage this with aplomb. The Arnhem story needs no introduction and while this film is part of an ambitious series looking at the whole story of Market Garden, it is the story of the 1st Airborne Division that tugs at my heartstrings. 

I have read several of the best known books on the battle, but have never been there. It is an omission I often feel needs to be remedied. This film has achieved the inevitable and makes me want to go today. The agonising disaster that unfolded is told with a clarity I wish others would learn from. There is little room for conjecture on the “what ifs” and great care is made to link the locations and episodes that took place. It is amazing how familiar a place can seem even when you’ve never been there.

The vivid testimonies of a cluster of veterans add to the production and the sad thing is how often we find ourselves presented with men who were of junior rank and not those with a broader view of events. This is inevitable when one considers how old many of the survivors are, but despite this these chaps have a real story to tell and one cannot fail to warm to them and hold them in that curious kind of awe old soldiers inspire. The film is interspersed with the standard mix of living history tableaux and, once again, this seems to come predominantly from the confines of the Hop Farm at Beltring. I could clearly see the fallen tree trunk where I regularly position myself to photograph the superb battles presented by highly regarded Just Ordinary Men group. All this footage has been carefully edited to crop out anything that doesn’t fit, so there is no danger of seeing me and my Nikon.

The DVD develops into a fast paced affair which jumps from scene to scene as the presenters attempt to instil the urgency of the situation as the British routes into the city were blocked by hastily positioned and yet highly effective parties of SS troops. So much was happening at the same time it is essential to keep all this in ‘real time’ perspective. This provides the essential strength of the film and although there are odd niggles with aspects of the production it would be churlish to eject the disk on that basis when there is so much merit.

The film takes you from the planning phase through to the painful moment when 2 Para and other elements relinquished their hold on the bridge. The next film will take us into the perimeter at Oosterbeek, the horrors of the Witches Cauldron and the disaster faced by the Poles. The advance of XXX Corps and the trials of the two US Divisions are covered to build a complete set.

For me, twenty quid is a bit steep, but nothing comes cheap these days and you do get a two disk set for your money. This is not a story which can be told hastily or with a big brush. There is a lot of fine detail and the film makers have done well to tease it out. The whole thing is done with a low key reverence for those amazing men who jumped or crashed landed into that hallowed corner of The Netherlands without any silly impression of being star struck. Nor does it get bogged down by dwelling too long looking at kit and weapons. Overall the balance is just about right.

However demanding you may be about the quality of the DVDs you buy, you may question the need for more coverage of this most famous of battles. Whatever your view, I am happy to recommend this package and would be interested to see the other instalments. I found myself determined not to mention that book by Cornelius Ryan, but for all we have learned to add to the history of the battle since his great work first appeared, I keep coming back to his wonderful writing style and his passion. The prose may not be the same, but there is passion in this film and that is enough for me.

Mark Barnes.

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EAN: 5060247620145


130 minutes

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.