Thursday, June 12, 2008

Another history lesson

Historical drama is a popular genre for Hollywood movies, but a lot of these movies are less history and more drama. (To be fair, the same could probably be said for historical dramas from other countries as well.) A movie coming up on TV soon which gets some of the lesser-known (to Americans) aspects of history right is the Czech World War II drama Dark Blue World, airing Friday, June 13, at 6:50 AM ET, with a repeat at 12:15 PM.

Dark Blue World tells the story of two Czech pilots. Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Nazis in March, 1939, with the Nazis turning the Czech part into a protectorate, and the Slovak part into a puppet state. The members of the Czechoslovak Air Force, obviously not wanting to work for what they perceived as an enemy government, fled, with many of them ending up in Britain. (By the same token, pilots from occupied Poland also ended up in the UK, as is shown in the not very realistic comedy To Be or Not To Be.) Many of these Czechoslovak pilots fought alongside the RAF against the Nazis in the Battle of Britain, and continued flying for the duration of the war. Unfortunately, for them, however, they had to return back home after the end of the war, and events were about to take a turn for the worse for them. Soviet-backed Communists slowly began taking over the governments in Central and Eastern Europe, with the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia being completed by March 1948. These Stalinist governments believed that while the Fascists were evil, only the Communists who fought against them should be recognized. (In Communist Czechoslovakia, it was suppressed that towns in the western part of the country, such as Plzen, were actually liberated by the Americans.) Worse for the pilots themselves, they were all arrested and hauled off to the Czech equivalent of the Gulag. (One thing not mentioned in the movie, probably because it didn't necessarily happen to everybody, is that the gulag forced labor included really nasty work like working in uranium mines.) The pilots were eventually released, but remained second-class citizens until after the fall of Communism in 1989, when the elderly surviving pilots were finally honored as the heroes they were.

Dark Blue World tells much of this information fairly well, although in a bit of a cursory manner. Czech audiences would know all this information, but for us Westerners, it's presented as the framing story to the movie. The "action" of the movie, being told in flashback, is quite good, with the flight sequences being an excellent combination of recreations and spliced footage from the 1969 British movie Battle of Britain. Sandwiched between the actions of the RAF men is a mildly silly, but effective love story: one of the Czech pilots is forced to bail out, and on the way back to his base, has to spend the night at the house of an English woman whose husband is missing in action. When our pilot's comrade-in-arms comes to pick him up, he too falls in love with her, leading to the predictable love triangle. However, the two story lines work well together, and the love story is touchingly resolved. The cinematography is excellent, and the score, including some vintage Czech music, is fitting. Dark Blue World is also available on DVD, and if you don't mind reading subtitles, is an excellent movie about a part of World War II many Americans may not know so much about.

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