In the late 1960s, when I did my O Levels, I studied History. I hated it, still do. It has no point to me, just a blinkered and edited view of the world. My History teacher was some-one I did not get on with, my fault I am sure.
One day he took us to the cinema to see this 1969 much neglected film, “Oh! What A Lovely War”. Teacher hated it because it was “too anti-war”, something I still clearly remember after all this time.
The piece started as a musical at the Theatre Royal, Stratford in the early 1960s. When it was made into a film it had a stellar British cast (John Mills, John Gielgud, Dirk Bogard, Maggie Smith, Laurence Olivier, Vanessa Redgrave…) and a first time director named, er, Richard Attenborough. The script was by Len Deighton, who asked for his name to be kept off the credits but then regretted it.
It tells a potted history of the events of World War I, with songs from the time. The film follows the fate of the many members of the Smith family. Much was filmed on the old Brighton pier, the one that is now destroyed.
I have never seen it as a theatre piece, but I know it’s still popular. The film doesn’t quite work, but is definitely worth viewing. It shows much of the futility of war, and the conditions in the trenches.
And it has a famous end…