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Review: The African Queen (film).

The African Queen.

The African Queen is one of those rare movies that improves upon the book. It has a much more satisfying denouement than Forester’s novel, even if it does perpetuate the pleasant myth that ship captains have the authority to solemnize marriages. But this is meant to be fictional entertainment, not a historical documentary.

It’s a complex narrative, told through three tightly plaited story lines. First, and most importantly, it’s a war story, set in German East Africa at the start of the First World War. Next, it’s an adventure that keeps you on the edge of your seat, no matter how often you’ve seen it. Lastly, it’s a love story, of the “unlikely romance” genre that’s built on a deeper development of character which implies that this is a meaningful relationship that will last.

The screenplay has such engaging, fast-paced writing that one forgets that without the war story line, there would be no plausible rationale for the adventure or the romance. Furthermore, the war story is built around the declared mission of a woman, Rose Sayer (who, until her brother’s untimely death, served as his missionary companion): to commit an act of war against a vessel of the Imperial German Navy. No such event occurred during the war, but the viewer comes away from the film feeling that it could have happened.

World War I in East Africa, map by Mehmet Berker

Given the times and her upbringing, we cannot doubt that after her grand adventure, Rose would happily settle down in a cottage surrounded with hollyhocks, there to bear Charlie Allnutt’s children and make blancmanges for the rest of her life. But we can also tell that without her, Charlie the drifter would have been happy to keep a low profile and float out the war in the backwaters of Africa. Rose makes a hero out of Charlie, not on the flimsy premise that he “rescued“ her from the hazards of a war-torn African colony, but by inspiring him to buck up and brave the leech-infested waters of the river, to help her achieve her grand design.

The African Queen thus becomes a tribute to the hundreds of thousands of women of Rose’s generation who served and inspired in wartime roles of amazing diversity: from traditional sock-knitting and bandage-rolling, and becoming nurses or voluntary aides, to munition workers, ambulance drivers, and innovative lifesavers, such as Madame Marie Curie with her mobile x-ray units, which she personally outfitted and personally delivered to hospitals and casualty clearing stations near the Western Front, and who trained doctors in their use.

Read the book by C. S. Forester, or not, as you like. But be sure to dial up the movie, or dig out your copy of it, and enjoy it for everything it can mean to you, in your understanding of the wars of history and your approach to the battles you face in your own life. Highly recommended.

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Review: Battlescapes (Buellesbach & Cowper)

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Battlescapes: A Photographic Testament to 2,000 years of Conflict.

It’s certainly not a fault of this book that it prepares a potential visitor to the battlefields of Europe to see a whole lot of nothing. Except in the locations of memorials and cemeteries, the woods have grown back and the fields have reverted to farming. Life goes on.

That’s the way it ought to be, of course. Despite the sadness we feel when confronted with a massive loss of human life, and the disgust we feel when we consider the value of the human capital wasted and the genetic potential lost forever, it is a far greater honor to the dead for later generations to have encouraged the natural landscape to recover and thrive, and to have reaped abundant harvests from the croplands, both so thoroughly fertilized by the flesh, blood and bones of so many.

For that is essentially why they died, during the First and Second World Wars: to save beauty from the boot heels of imperial tyranny and totalitarian oppression, and to preserve lives and livelihoods assured by agriculture practiced in freedom.

This is a cloth-covered, hardbound book with a dust cover, and hefty enough from its thick, glossy pages to make it hard to handle if not read from a desktop. Concise text summaries accompany stunning color photography dominated by spacious two-page spreads that do a fine job of carrying the reader to each site. Different seasons and weather conditions are portrayed. A brief battlefield visitor’s guide offers helpful tourist information for each location, as well as some website URLs. It has an adequate index.

The First World War sites the volume visits are Ypres, the Dolomites, the Isonzo, Verdun, the Somme, and Vimy Ridge, but the book covers 28 other battlefields, dating from September, 52 BC to April, 1945, so it makes a suitable gift for any armchair general.

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The Best Short Documentary About the First World War!

Watch it below!

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