War Films and The British Film Industry

British Marines pictured here as trying to clear the Taliban from Kajaki.
British Marines pictured here as trying to clear the Taliban from Kajaki. The British film industry is afraid to fund and show the war film based on this.

Come Christmas time, many a British men will be comfortably seated in their warm homes watching British war films while eating two or three mince pies. Such is the common practice of men in the land.

However, most available war films are of the WWII-era, movies that celebrate British courage in these times. There’s The Dam Busters, The Bridge On The River Kwai, Cockleshell Heroes, The Great Escape, Where Eagles Dare or The Guns Of Navarone – depending on what that certain TV channel schedules come Christmas day.

Of course, you may say the war films above were not entirely of the British film industry; they also have American money invested in them. Well, this is but a fact in most current British films, anyway. Besides, films like The Great Escape may have run on American finances but they were very dependent on British workforce and talent – from the actors to the production staff alike.

However, if one looks at the list of British war films, while they showcase the British Armed Forces’ strong dignity, the friendship among fellow soldiers, the dark humor and bravery, the films are all set during WWII and had been filmed almost 50 years back. Did our forces stopped fighting after WWII? The answer is a big NO! So why aren’t there any more British war films produced and shown?

Tom Williams, a British screenplay writer, discovered the answer the hard way behind these questions and had recounted everything in a written post in Daily Mail.

Seeing the great lack of British war films shown in cinemas, he has come up to the conclusion that the British film industry is inclined to turn a blind eye on the heroism of the British men and women in uniform.

His first film, Chalet Girl, which starred Bill Nighy, Felicity Jones and Brooke Shields and was a romantic comedy had been a success. After it, he wrote several other screenplays in the romcom genre as he saw there always is a market for it.

But while he was doing romcom, he had looked through the film industry and found a huge gap labelled “Great British War Films”.

For a fact, the industry has stopped featuring screen adaptations of heroic wars Britain had fought in since 1945. Well, there had been a number of TV dramas like Tumbledown which was about the Falklands and Occupation which was centered on the Basra invasion but both had focused on what happened to the soldiers when they all came home.

Then there is Bluestone 42, a TV comedy about a bomb disposal unit in Afghanistan but most of the uniformed men Mr. Williams knew had unanimously agreed the said show was in “a bad taste”.

Searching over and over again, he had come up with only one post-WWII British war film –  Who Dares Wins. The said movie starred the great late Lewis Collins. However, the film was more in line with terrorist thrillers, not the classy war film which one could put in line with The Dam Busters.

Nevertheless, Mr. Williams found one very interesting story which happened near the village of Kajaki in Afghanistan.

At 11am on September 6, 2006, a three-man patrol from 3 Para left an observation point on a ridge  overlooking the Kajaki Dam in Helmand Province.

As he hopped over a dried-out gully at the bottom of the ridge, Lance Corporal Stuart Hale stepped on a land mine, blowing off his right leg.

A rescue party was hastily assembled and soon a dozen men were helping to clear a route across the minefield to a spot from where a helicopter could winch Hale to safety.

Then another mine went off. Then another. Then another,” Mr. Williams recalls.

He then added that in a span of four hours, the lives of the ten or so soldiers within the area were drastically changed. Three had lost their limbs while the others were seriously injured.

Corporal Mark Wright, who coordinated the rescue efforts and was himself severely wounded, continued to lift his men’s spirits up until he died in the helicopter that was to take them to safety. He was awarded the George Cross in a posthumous ceremony after the tragedy.

“This was the kind of raw courage I had been wanting to write about. Undoubted heroism, extraordinary regimental spirit and life-saving sacrifice. The story didn’t hang upon questions of why we were in Afghanistan, who the enemy was, who was right and who was wrong.

After all, the mines detonated that day had been laid down 25 years earlier by Russian troops during their own invasion and occupation of the country in the Eighties. The enemy was invisible, inevitable and lethal. The enemy was war,” Mr. Williams mused.

And so because he wanted to immortalize the story into a film, Tom Williams, together with director Paul Katis, delved deeper into the story. In their research, they were able to meet Mark’s parents and some of the soldiers involved in it, most of whom had since left the Army.

And being granted by the Ministry of Defense approval for the said movie, Mr. Williams wrote the script.

And so they had the script, the budget, though it was low, and one tough but moving story which tackled contemporary warfare. But then, Mr. Williams and Director Katis had hit against a wall that the British film industry was adamant to break and venture out to.

They first approached individuals of different publicly funded subsidy organizations along with a number of broadcasters who acted as the British film industry’s sentinels. They all expressed the needed wonderful adjectives about William’s planned war film but then, politically, it was something they were unwilling to go into.

‘This is the kind of film that should be made, but we can’t put any money into it,’ they said when in fact, the story is a far cry from any political matters.

Faced with a letdown, they approached the distributors, sales agents and financiers and told them about the planned war film.

However, they said the same things: the material is tough and great but is Britain ready for a war film about Afghanistan? isn’t it a bit too gloomy? Can’t it be made into a TV feature instead?

Tom Williams and the Kajaki Film Project
Tom Williams and the Kajaki Film Project

Mr. Williams insist this is not about him sour-graping over his script which did not get the support he believed it should get. It was more than that.

The rest of the country had been very supportive of the military – charities like Help for Heroes, Walking with the Wounded and Poppy Appeal attest to that – but it seems like the British film industry chose to go to a different path.

The American film industry, on the other hand, had been making strings of successful war films – Black Hawk Down, The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, Three Kings – and all these have enjoyed views from the mainstream cinema audience. A number of them have even received recognition in the American film academy.

Are the people who fought and still fight for our freedom not worthy to be movie subjects? For instead of depicting stories of bravery and humanity amidst conflicts that will surely touch every human heart, the British film industry has insted chosen to stick to its “holy trinity” of films – those that show the misery of the social realists, romantic comedies for the escapists and the gangster thrillers ala Guy Ritchie.

When will this industry wake up?

Help fund the Kajaki film. Visit Indiegogo.com

– Daily Mail reports





Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE