On Passchendaele, the Movie and the Battle

SoldiersThis Remembrance Day, I thought I’d write about Passchendaele, Paul Gross’s new film based around an important World War I battle. At $20 million, it’s the biggest budgeted Canadian movie ever produced, and it looks it. The war scenes that frame the long second act are grim and bloody. They’ll be familiar to viewers of the modern war movie, but they’re skillfully rendered and watchable.

The middle of the film takes place in the then small town of Calgary, Alberta. It features all the archetypes of the Canadian historical epic: the orphaned daughter, scorned by the townspeople; her young brother, denied the chance to go to war; the town drunk, played by a fat-suit-wearing (I hope) Gil Bellows and the shell-shocked veteran returned from the front. It’s all horse rides and hobble skirts while Paul Gross’s character falls for the aforementioned orphan, played by the lovely Caroline Dhavernas.

But, of course, sacrifices must be made, and the film ends predictably with the muddy, bloody Battle of Passchendaele.

From the CBC archives, where’s there’s a great short radio documentary about the battle:

On Nov. 6, 1917 Canadian troops captured Belgium’s Passchendaele ridge, ending a gruelling offensive that had begun on July 31, 1917. The Battle of Passchendaele is remembered for its atrocious conditions, heavy casualties and Canadian valour. Canadians, instrumental in securing victory, earned a total of nine Victoria Crosses for their courage.

It’s not Saving Private Ryan, but if you (like me) can’t get to a ceremony today to honour our armed forces, present and past, you could do worse than to watch Passchendaele and think about their sacrifice.


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