The Great War Begins

On Sunday, June 28, 1914, two people were assassinated in Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina.   The people were Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg.  Their deaths set off a chain of events that eventually led to a breakdown of diplomacy among numerous countries, declarations of war – and the deaths of millions more in the brief span of four years.

One hundred years ago.  The events of the First World War are not as familiar to us as World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But as David Cherry pointed out in his blog, World War I continues to make an impact on the world today.

As we begin Gulf Coast Reads and dive into the book Remember Ben Clayton by Stephen Harrigan, it’s a good time to review what led up to “The War to End All Wars.”  That war claims the life of the title character.  But Ben’s passing has a ripple effect on the main characters of the novel: Ben’s father Lamar; sculptor Francis “Gil” Gilheaney; Gil’s daughter Maureen; and Ben’s fellow soldier Arthur Fry.

Of course, before the United States entered the war in 1917, other countries were fighting in Europe.  To explore the causes of WWI, as well as some of the major battles, check out the documentaries listed below.


Blood and Oil: the Middle East in World War I
The First World War: the Complete Series
Killing Fields: the First World War
World War I: the Great War


You can also check out some feature films and TV series about World War I and its aftermath from a European point of view. 

Great Britain and Ireland

All the King’s Men (1999 British TV) – David Jason, Maggie Smith
Lawrence of Arabia (1962) – Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Alec Guinness
My Boy Jack (2007 British TV) – David Haig, Daniel Radcliffe, Kim Cattrall, Carey Mulligan
Parade’s End (1964 British TV mini-series) – Judi Dench, Ronald Hines
Parade’s End (2013 British TV mini-series) – Benedict Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall
Regeneration (1997) – Jonathan Pryce, James Wilby, Jonny Lee Miller, Dougray Scott
War Horse (2011) – Jeremy Irvine, Peter Mullan, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch


1915 (1982 Australian mini-series) – Scott McGregor, Scott Burgess, Sigrid Thornton
Beneath Hill 60 (2010) -- Brendan Cowell, Steve Le Marquand, Gyton Grantley
Gallipoli (1981) -- Mel Gibson, Mark Lee, Bill Kerr, Harold Hopkins


Passchendaele (2007) -- Paul Gross, Caroline Dhavernas, Joe Dinicol, Meredith Bailey, Gil Bellows


Le Grande Illusion (1937) -- Jean Gabin, Dita Parlo, Pierre Fresnay, Erich von Stroheim, Marcel Dalio
Paths of Glory (1957) -- Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou
A Very Long Engagement (2004) -- Audrey Tautou, Gaspard Ulliel, Jean-Pierre Becker, Jodie Foster


All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) -- Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim, John Wray, Slim Summerville
The Blue Max (1966) -- George Peppard, James Mason, Ursula Andress

Special Mention

37 Days – A British docudrama/mini-series about the beginning of the war, from the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, until the declaration of war between Great Britain and Germany.  Starring Ian McDiarmid, Nicholas Farrell, Tim Pigott-Smith, Sinead Cusack, Bill Paterson

Joyeux Noel (2005) -- Loosely based on true episodes, this film tells the story of German, French, and Scottish soldiers in the bloody trenches of World War I and the miraculous Christmas Eve truce they unexpectedly forge. Follows a French lieutenant, a Scottish priest, and a German tenor and his beloved Danish soprano as music and the spirit of Christmas create bonds between enemies.  Starring Diane Krüger, Benno Fürmann, Guillaume Canet, Gary Lewis, Dany Boon, Daniel Brühl, Alex Ferns, Steven Robertson, Frank Witter, Bernard Le Coq, Ian Richardson, Lucas Belvaux.

Blackadder Goes Forth (1989 British comedy series) – Part of the Blackadder series of British television comedies, this show follows in the footsteps of wartime comedies such as Hogan’s Heroes and M*A*S*H.  And like M*A*S*H, Blackadder Goes Forth does delve into some of the more serious aspects of war, particularly in the last episode.  Starring Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, and Tim McInnerny. 

There are also a number of films that focus on the American perspective.  We’ll be looking at those in my next blog, as well as other movies and documentaries that touch on themes explored in Remember Ben Clayton.


Flickr: CC         :  Group in the trenches          Photo by National Library of Scotland