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D-Day on screen - four films and TV dramas revisited, 75 years on

PUBLISHED: 11:00 01 June 2019

Saving Private Ryan. Picture: Dreamworks/Paramount Pictures

Saving Private Ryan. Picture: Dreamworks/Paramount Pictures

D-Day has been revisited by film and TV many times over the years. Do you remember these four screen portrayals of the events of June 6, 1944?

The Longest Day  Picture: 20TH CENTURY FOXThe Longest Day Picture: 20TH CENTURY FOX

To mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, as well as watching the commemorations, you may want to see a film or TV mini-series about the historic events. Here is a look at four screen portrayals.

The Longest Day (1962)

Watching this film on DVD, I found it extremely moving - and realised how it had shown the way forward to recent movies such as Dunkirk, by having a large cast and telling intertwining stories rather than focusing on just a few stars.

The amazing cast includes John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton, Henry Fonda, Richard Todd Sean Connery, Peter Lawford, Kenneth More and many others. However, all those famous names are there as actors rather than stars, with no individual getting a large amount of screen time.

Michael Fassbender (left) and Tom Hardy (right) were two members of the Band of Brothers ensemble cast. Picture: HBOMichael Fassbender (left) and Tom Hardy (right) were two members of the Band of Brothers ensemble cast. Picture: HBO

Producer Daryl Zanuck took the decision to shoot in black and white to give the feel of a docudrama, which also allowed some real newsreel footage to be slotted in.

Of course, not everything is accurate. For one thing, Wayne was 54, but the character he was playing, Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Vandervoort, was only 27 at the time of the landings.

There were also some changes to the real events, and an early 1960s movie could not show the graphic violence depicted in later war films. However, because it was made only 18 years after the events of D-Day, this epic drama has a feel of authenticity that sets it apart from later films.

Some of the actors had really fought during the Second World War, and Richard Todd had actually been one of the first British officers to land in Normandy in Operation Overlord, as well as taking part in the assault on Pegasus Bridge. (Todd played Major John Howard, while a younger actor played Todd!)

Film director Steven Spielberg on the set of Saving Private Ryan.  Picture: Paramount/PAFilm director Steven Spielberg on the set of Saving Private Ryan. Picture: Paramount/PA

One of the greatest things about the film is that it shows the events from different viewpoints, including scenes showing the German military - who, refreshingly, actually speak German, with subtitles. Much of the dialogue is said to be taken from diaries and reports, although there are still some great one-liners which many fans know off by heart.

Richard Burton took a short time out from the filming of Cleopatra for a small role as an RAF pilot, and ended up making two of the film's most memorable scenes.

Read more - Pilgrimages through the years: D-Day veterans return to Normandy

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Ella Purnell, Miranda Richardson and Brian Cox in Churchill. Picture: Salon PicturesElla Purnell, Miranda Richardson and Brian Cox in Churchill. Picture: Salon Pictures

Steven Spielberg's epic is the most celebrated D-Day film from more recent years. It's a more intimate story than The Longest Day, but it also shows the graphic violence of the landing on Omaha Beach in a realistic way that the older film couldn't. The devastating, blood-strewn 20-minute opening sequence is hard to watch, but adds up to one of the most powerful portrayals of battle ever put on film.

While the film is fictional, its central story is loosely based on the Niland brothers from New York. After their parents received telegrams informing them of the deaths of three of their sons, the Army decided that the surviving son, Frederick "Fritz" Niland, should be sent back home. (In the end it turned out that one of the other brothers had survived.)

In the film version, two brothers are killed in action during the Allied Invasion of Normandy, and then there is news that a third brother has also been killed in New Guinea. Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) and a band of eight men are sent to find the fourth brother, Private James Ryan (Matt Damon), who is missing behind enemy lines.

Band of Brothers (2001)

Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks revisited D-Day as co-creators of this acclaimed 10-part drama series, which dramatised the story of the US "Easy" Company, 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment,

The first two episodes, which were originally shown back-to-back to make up a feature-length film, show the troops training and getting ready for D-Day, and then, on D-Day itself, follow the paratroopers as they cross the Channel to France, where they are parachuted behind enemy lines in support of the landings at Utah Beach.

Scott Grimes, Damian Lewis and David Schwimmer, in a role very different from the lovable Ross in Friends, were among the main cast. The series was largely shot at Hatfield Aerodrome in Hertfordshire. Rather than jumping straight into battle like Saving Private Ryan, it lets viewers get to know the characters first, and become immersed in their experiences. The series is known as one of the finest war dramas ever made for TV, and its reputation has grown over the years.

Spielberg and Hanks are reportedly working on another series, Masters of the Air, about the American Eighth Air Force, and Hanks is thought to have made an incognito visit to the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum in Diss a few years ago as part of his research, signing his name as Woody after his Toy Story character.

Churchill (2017)

Somewhat overshadowed by The Darkest Hour, an acclaimed film about Churchill during the Blitz, this film released the same year portrays the leader in June 1944. It focuses on the hours leading up to D-Day. Brian Cox takes the role of Winston Churchill, with Miranda Richardson as his wife Clementine and John Slattery as Eisenhower.

The film, directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, is interesting in showing the political arguments behind the scenes, but has been criticised by historians over claims of inaccuracy. In particular, some have disputed its portrayal of Churchill opposing the Normandy landings and full of trepidation on the eve of the operation.

But the film does also show his determination to go to sea and take part in the landings, and how King George VI (James Purefoy) pleaded with him not to take part. Overall, it is quite entertaining, but rather sentimental at times and I had to cringe at a scene where Churchill kneels beside his bed to pray to God to "smite his enemies".

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