Please recommend movies, books and tv to do with the First World War (1914 to 1918)
November 25, 2012 3:33 AM   Subscribe

I'd like some recommendations for high quality movies, books, memoirs, tv shows, etc that cover the First World War (1914 to 1918) and the immediate years before and after.

I've become a bit obsesessed with tales and experiences from the First World War, most probably because it is an entire generation that I have experienced the loss of during my lifetime. I've seen Anzacs, Duchess of Duke Street, Downton Abbey (series 2), All Quiet on the Western Front, Gallipoli, Black Adder 3 and I've read Birdsong.

All recommendations gratefully received!
posted by h00py to Media & Arts (40 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Stories from those at home, not just those who were on the battlefields, are also welcome.
posted by h00py at 3:36 AM on November 25, 2012

My initial response was Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy (that's a really useless Wikipedia article, but it links to articles for the individual books).

To Serve Them All My Days spans the period from sometime during the First World War through to sometime during the Second World War. It was also made into a TV series. Delderfield's books probably collectively span the entire period you're interested in.

If you can find it, Heimat starts in 1919 and just... keeps going. Heimat 3 makes it to 2000.

Remarque wrote two other books in the same 'continuity' as All Quiet on the Western Front: The Road Back and Three Camarades, neither of which I've read.

Wikipedia has an article on the war novel which has a few more examples.
posted by hoyland at 4:07 AM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Robert Graves's memoir. "Goodbye to All That"

Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory" (1957) starring Kirk Douglas
posted by Jahaza at 4:10 AM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

The movie Un long dimanche de fiançailles
posted by mirthe at 4:31 AM on November 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

seconding Pat Barker, who is far less romantic than the PBS fare. Also Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth, Sigfried Sassoon's Memoirs of An Infantry Officer, and the First Day on the Somme by Martin Middlebrook.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:32 AM on November 25, 2012

Vera Brittain's memoir, Testament of Youth, is fascinating; it traces the impact of WWI on Edwardian society through the eyes of an upper middle class young Englishwoman who sees her friends and family head off to the war and leaves university to become a war nurse.

The BBC has a number of radio shows on WWI, both drama and documentary. And BBC Radio 4 is planning a 4-year drama series to "tell the story of signal corp soldiers' experiences during the war in real time."

Have you seen War Horse yet? (Oh - on edit - you can get A Very Long Engagement as a novel, as well, it's excellent.)
posted by marguerite at 4:33 AM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

VM Yeates' little-known Winged Victory is sort of a realist counterpart to WE Johns' Biggles stories.
posted by permafrost at 4:41 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another strong recommendation for Vera Brittain's "Testament of Youth." An unforgettable book.
posted by kestralwing at 4:41 AM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

The original Upstairs Downstairs covered that period, in the third series.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:45 AM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: World War I books
posted by TheRaven at 4:46 AM on November 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm reading Fall of Giants by Ken Follet right now and it's excellent - follows 5 families from different nations in the years before and after the war. It's giving me a fresh understanding of why the war happened and what it meant.
posted by lunasol at 5:37 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you read The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman? It focuses on the lead-up to the war (as well as the first month or so) and does an outstanding job of clearly laying out who the players were, the decisions and actions they did and didn't take, the consequences of those actions, etc. Totally compelling - I couldn't put it down.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 5:39 AM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

The website is chock-full of stuff, including primary documents, audio and video, etc.

This Flickr set shows the first edition of a magazine made by prisoners in a WWI German camp for British POWs (Ruhleben).

This book can be hard to come by, as it's long out of print (I've had good luck with libraries, try there), but oh it is SO GOOD: How we lived then, 1914-1918;: A sketch of social and domestic life in England during the war, by Dorothy Constance Peel (also listed as "Mrs. C.S. Peel" among other iterations). It was published in 1929, and gives a detailed, factual look at the WWI home front in England, including prices, rationing, food, home life, etc. Being written so much closer to the event, it has a lot of tiny atmospheric details that I imagine would otherwise have been too easy to lose or forget.
posted by theatro at 6:07 AM on November 25, 2012

The BBC just recently aired a critically acclaimed miniseries based on Ford Madox Ford's epic tetrology Parade's End, which has been released on DVD (but pricey--the novel itself is also worth reading). If you've not read Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, now is the time to do so!

If you are comfortable with dense and difficult allusive poetry on the level of T.S. Eliot, David Jones' In Parenthesis is worth the effort.

Lawrence of Arabia may not "feel" like a WWI film, but the engagements going on in the far reaches of the British Empire are part of what made WWI a "world" war, though we tend to focus on the battles of Europe in our own recollections. Also, the 1984 film version of Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge starred Bill Murray in his first dramatic role, at a time when he was known as the crazy guy from SNL who did Caddyshack and Stripes. It's got a lot of weaknesses, but if you like Bill Murray's later work it's interesting to see him stretch his wings here. By the same token, even The African Queen has WWI at the center of its plot, although we don't typically think of it as a WWI film.

In contrast Stanley Kubrick's early film Paths of Glory is right there in the thick of the battlefront s that we normally think of when we think WWI, as is the more recent Joyeux Noel, which recounts the true story of the Christmas Eve Truce of 1914.

An incomplete list of other films
posted by drlith at 6:11 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

After Downton Abbey piqued my interest, I read "A World Undone" by G.J Meyer. If you are looking for the historical side of things, I'd recommend it -- it provides a good overview of the why, the how, and the aftermath.
posted by bitterpants at 6:14 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

The one book that kicked off years of WWI reading for me was Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory - it will give you dozens of authors and memoirs worth finding.
posted by henry scobie at 6:20 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fussell had written a guide to poetic form and an equally fine critical life of Samuel Johnson when, in 1975, he broke out as an intellectual celebrity with The Great War and Modern Memory, which won the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award. The Great War tells the story of the destruction of the 19th century —of its class system and its faith in progress; really, of any way of living predicated on a stable system of value —by World War I. Out of the mass experience of pointless death, a new way of speaking and writing, devoid of euphemism, arose, a plain style we associate with Hemingway (“Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the number of roads, the names of rivers, the number of regiments and dates”) but in England may just as easily evoke Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves, and Edmund Blunden —writers who saw action in the Great Fuck-Up, as infantrymen soon called it, writers who, as a result of firsthand acquaintance with the trenches, sought a way of making literature without any recourse to elevated literary diction.

The Great War chronicles the loss of the old rhetoric, of high pieties, of sacrifice and roseate dawns, in favor of “blood, terror, agony, madness, shit, cruelty, murder, sell-out, pain and hoax,” as Fussell lists it at one point; the sound of “ominous gunfire heard across water.”
posted by Postroad at 6:45 AM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

The novel of The Magnificent Ambersons was published in 1918 so is very much in the right timeframe but is not a WWI novel as such. Filmed by Orson Welles of course.
posted by biffa at 6:59 AM on November 25, 2012

As a foreign resident of the Belgian town of Leuven I've found the Judicial Report on the Sacking of Louvain by the Flemish Professor Leon van der Essen, which is written with remarkable neutrality, humility, and conspicuous respect for truth, particularly gripping.

This is contrasted by the transparently absurd official response to the incident by the Imperial German government and Kaiser Wilhelm II's response in a telegram to President Woodrow Wilson.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:16 AM on November 25, 2012

Storm of Steel, by Ernst Junger is a firsthand account of WWI trenches from the German perspective.
posted by patricio at 8:09 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Pat Barker's Regeneration was adapted into a film in 1997. I thought it was quite good.

You could also try ITV's My Boy Jack, which is the story of Rudyard Kipling's son, who apparently was driven by his father's patriotism to serve in the war despite his poor eyesight. It has pretty favorable reviews.
posted by katyggls at 8:24 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you read The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman?

The Zimmerman Telegram by Barbara Tuchman is also excellent.
posted by Lorin at 8:46 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Barbara Tuchman is always excellent: A Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World before the War is a fascinating prequel to The Guns of August. It's about the tensions underlying Western culture that led to what happened.
posted by ovvl at 9:00 AM on November 25, 2012

Johnny Got His Gun was an interesting and pretty bleak film... later adapted into a Metallica video.
posted by ovvl at 9:06 AM on November 25, 2012

My wife told me this would be right up your alley:
posted by cowmix at 9:14 AM on November 25, 2012

Oh! What a Lovely War!
posted by Navelgazer at 9:16 AM on November 25, 2012

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn isn't overtly about World War I, but it does take place in part during that era and does a great job showing what the world was like immediately before and how the world transformed itself during the war.
posted by mynameisluka at 9:26 AM on November 25, 2012

Jennifer Johnston's How Many Miles to Babylon?, beautifully details a dysfunctional family, the class divide in Ireland, and the horrors of WWI - in just 150 pages. It's a powerful story and one of my favorite books.
posted by kbar1 at 9:33 AM on November 25, 2012

For whatever reason, the book that really made WWI seem real for me was the first volume of Manchester's Last Lion biography of Churchill. The book covers a much longer time period but the 1914-1919 part really conveyed the scale and futility of the war in a more concrete way than other things I've read.
posted by yarrow at 10:01 AM on November 25, 2012

Google Books has magazines from the era and Google News has newspapers, as do other sites and archives around the internet. It's interesting to pick one particular magazine or paper and read it up to and through the start of the war to the end and aftermath and to look at retrospectives in stuff from the subsequent decades.
posted by XMLicious at 10:48 AM on November 25, 2012

The Great War is a BBC documentary in 26 parts (~17hrs) that tells the story of the war, before and after, with contributions and footage from those who were there. It's incredible, and I recommend it in all threads like this one.
posted by rhizome at 11:19 AM on November 25, 2012

Alongside Fussell, you should also check out Modris Eksteins's book Rites of Spring, one of the most remarkable books of history I've come across—and one of the most readable. Powerful, suggestive, and more than a little elusive: it gives you a great deal to think about, rather than telling you what to think.

His Walking Since Daybreak is if anything even better, and although it's centred on the Second World War it really makes you understand (like Rites of Spring, but from a different perspective) how the Second grew out of the First.

And as someone's already mentioned, the Regeneration trilogy is a marvel, especially if it leads you to read the memoirs by Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 12:10 PM on November 25, 2012

I don't know if either of these are what you are looking for. They are both fiction. Rilla of Ingleside is the final book in the Anne of Green Gables series, and it is really a tale of what happens on the Homefront during WWI- specifically in Prince Edward Island, Canada.

Connie Willis wrote a short story called Schwarzschild Radius which has haunted me ever since I read it. She draws a parallel between the horrors of trench warfare and the science of black holes.
posted by Brody's chum at 2:07 PM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

During: A Farewell To Arms
After: The Sun Also Rises Ernest Hemingway
posted by Rash at 3:02 PM on November 25, 2012

Let's try that link again:
Ernest Hemingway
posted by Rash at 3:10 PM on November 25, 2012

The War the Infantry Knew 1914-1919, by Captain J.C. Dunn. Told in diary form, drawn from the papers and reminiscences of the Royal Welch Fusiliers by its medical officer.
posted by mookieproof at 5:55 PM on November 25, 2012

Laurie R. King's Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes stories are set in the post-Great War period. (Holmes purists need not apply, unless they enjoy grinding their teeth.)
posted by Lexica at 7:50 PM on November 25, 2012

The Great War in Africa
Europe's Last Summer
In addition to being informative both are wonderful to read.
posted by dzot at 9:53 PM on November 25, 2012

The Return of the Soldier, a novel by Rebecca West. From the Wikipedia page: "It was published in 1918 during World War I and remained the only novel written and published by a woman during the war about the war.[1]" I first read it years ago at the recommendation of one of my profs and I still browse through it periodically. (The book is in the public domain in the U.S. -- at the bottom of the Wikipedia page there are links to free e-text and audiobook versions.)

There have been some great threads regarding World War I on MetaFilter and AskMe, so if you haven't already explored the archives, definitely check them out. Many of them have links to additional resources and recommendations. Some tags to get started (and I would also suggest adding the following tags to your AskMe here, so that your question appears for them as well!):
MeFi: greatwar | ww1 | wwi | worldwari | firstworldwar
AskMe: ww1 | wwi | worldwari

I've become a bit obsesessed with tales and experiences from the First World War, most probably because it is an entire generation that I have experienced the loss of during my lifetime.

I can understand this. The thought reminded me of a previous thread about the (then) last two WWI veterans; it included a sidebarred comment from pjern about his WWI-vet grandfather. (Not a book, TV or movie rec, but thought I'd mention it in case you hadn't seen it.)
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 1:10 AM on November 27, 2012

I highly recommend Josheph Boyd's Three Day Road. It tells the story of two Cree hunters that enlist as snipers with the Canadian Corps. Boyd gives you a really visceral sense of the experience at the front, as well as the psychological/emotional damage that the war caused. It was inspired by the real-life story of wwI Ojibway hero Francis Pegahmagabow.
posted by Kabanos at 3:07 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

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