The Forgotten Battle (Netflix), a Dutch Second World War drama from director Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr. (he directed that prequel to The Thing a few years back), looks at the 1944 Battle of the Scheldt from three different perspectives: The German occupation, the Dutch resistance, and the Allied soldiers. With a budget of around $16 million, The Forgotten Battle is one of the most expensive Dutch films ever made.
The Gist: It’s September 1944, three months after the Allied invasion of Normandy. Germany has been forced to withdraw to the east, and Antwerp, with its port facilities vital to Allied resupply, has already been liberated. Problem is, the Nazis still control the River Scheldt, Antwerp’s deep water route to the North Sea, and they’re dug in hard on Walcheren Island, at the Western mouth of the river. All of Zeeland is banking on liberation any day, and German forces are shifty and tense in the region. Teuntje (Susan Radder) works in the mayor’s office, where the Netherlands’ grudging appeasement of the Germans seems to finally be at an end. But it’s not that simple, as the Wehrmacht reinforce their presence in preparation of fighting a delaying action. The forces of Commandant Oberst Berghof (Justus von Dohnanyi) also begin rounding up local boys as agitators, including Teunt’s brother Dirk (Ronald Kalter).
Meanwhile, out on the Russian front, Marinus Van Stavern (Gijs Blom) is a Dutch member of the Wehrmacht infantry. Wounded, he’s recovering in a field hospital when he meets an embittered second lieutenant (he lost his legs), who spits out a quote from Goebbels. “If you tell a lie big enough and repeat it often enough, eventually people will come to believe it.” And before he knows it, Van Stavern is transferred to a desk job in Zeeland as Berghof’s personal secretary. At the same time, across the Channel in Dorset, RAF paratrooper Will Sinclair (Jamie Flatters) is the pilot of a towed glider alongside his First Officer, Turner (Tom Felton of Harry Potter fame). When they join a massive Operation Market Garden reconnaissance squadron, their bird is promptly struck by German 88mm cannon fire and they ditch in the flooded estuary of the River Scheldt.
While it’s clear that these individuals and their respective points of view will converge, it’s a thrill to watch The Forgotten Battle get around to finally making it happen. As Teuntje is recruited by the Dutch resistance for a daring mission, Van Stavern is transferred to a defensive emplacement on Walcheren Island, and Sinclair makes it to the Canadian Army lines, where he joins them in brutal assault over the muddy causeways on the heavily-fortified Wehrmacht positions. The war journey is never in a straight line for anyone, no matter their side.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of? It’s always interesting to view the events of the Second World War from beyond Hollywood’s perspective. The 2017 Norwegian film The 12th Man dramatizes the escape of resistance fighter Jan Baalsrud from the Nazis’ clutches after an operation gone wrong. Black Book, meanwhile, was Paul Verhoven’s 2006 war drama starring Carice “Melisandre of Asshai” van Houten that also became one of the Netherlands’ most successful films ever. 2008’s Max Manus: Man of War, meanwhile, starred Aksel Hennie as the titular hero of Norway’s fight against German occupation.
Performance Worth Watching: Jamie Flatters brings a cocksure and square-jawed confidence to his early scenes as a glider operations pilot in the RAF’s No. 644 Squadron. But as Will Sinclair is shot down, and he slogs his way through enemy territory to the Canadian lines before joining the Canucks’ infantry assault, his natural bravado curdles into jaded resolve.
Memorable Dialogue: “Liberation. That was a misunderstanding. The Germans are back.” Dr. Visser (Jan Bijvoet) makes this observation to Teuntje gravely, as columns of Wehrmacht infantry that days before were trudging out of Zeeland are marching back in. “The Allies never crossed our border.”
Sex and Skin: Nee.
Our Take: Draped in an overcast pallor that emulates cloud cover over the European peninsula as much as it does the dour, dangerous business of war and occupation, The Forgotten Battle does its best to portray big picture scope even as it dials in on the three individual stories at its core. Whether it’s Teuntje arguing with her hothead brother Dirk over the relative merit of the larger resistance movement versus preservation of family, life, and limb, or the varying states of willingness to get in the fight represented by the members of Will’s stick who get stuck playing cat and mouse with German patrols in the Dutch muck, or Van Stavern’s drastic shift in personal philosophy as he bears more and more witness to a German Army left with only sadism and blind allegiance to der Fuhrer, the strings Forgotten Battle pulls on are never less than taut, twisty, and fraying. It’s as the legless lieutenant tells Van Stavern. “There is no such thing as good.” And then he puts a Luger in his mouth.
Credit van Heijningen, Jr., too, with staging some gripping war action. His camera assumes the point of view of the paratroopers in the payload of Sinclair and Turner’s glider, then pans upward through the glass of the pilots’ cabin to take in the massive scope of the squadron as it flies over the English Channel. Elsewhere in Forgotten, as the Canadian troops march into the teeth of the German emplacements, tracers lance overhead as troops leap desperately into the craters of previous artillery barrages. It offers more than a measure of the extreme effort expended in human beings and materiel for what often amounts to utter futility.
Our Call: STREAM IT. The Forgotten Battle approaches the scope of a war epic in look and feel while keeping its focus on the disparate trio of individuals at its core, fated to meet in war.
Johnny Loftus is an independent writer and editor living at large in Chicagoland. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media, and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glennganges
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