They didn’t need a big­ger boat

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

THE BAT­TLES OF CORONEL AND FALK­LAND IS­LANDS Di­rected by Wal­ter Sum­mers. Star­ring Craighall Sherry, Roger Maxwell Club, IFI, Dublin, 105 min

Now, here’s a thing. This swash­buck­ling drama­ti­sa­tion of two ma­jor bat­tles in the open­ing months of the first World War is a docu­d­rama from a mo­ment when there was no such com­pound ad­jec­tive and no such generic dis­tinc­tion.

Dur­ing the 1920s, front­line pho­tog­ra­phers rou­tinely re-cre­ated scenes of note. This thrilling chron­i­cle of the Bat­tle of Coronel and the Bat­tle of the Falk­land Is­lands was sim­i­larly re­con­structed some 12 years after the events de­picted. How on earth does one recre­ate a bat­tle­ship in 1926? By us­ing ac­tual bat­tle­ships, of course.

Wal­ter Sum­mers’s ex­tra­or­di­nary chron­i­cle of the Ger­man Ad­mi­ral von Spee’s first naval vic­tory and the sub­se­quent Bri­tish re­sponse cost £18,000 to make and grossed £70,000 on its ini­tial Armistice Day re­lease. It was even a box-of­fice hit in Ger­many and con­tains an early ex­am­ple of the Noble Ger­man in War trope.

When a cel­e­bra­tory Ger­man din­ner party – re­plete with a “Gotcha” cake in the shape of a sink­ing Bri­tish ship – pro­poses a toast to Bri­tish damna­tion, von Spee de­clines, say­ing: “I raise my glass to a gal­lant en­emy” be­fore out­lin­ing his plans to take the Falk­land Coal De­pot.

Back in Blighty, mean­while, Lon­don­ers bris­tle at the news of the loss: “Well Jack, what’s the Navy go­ing to do about it then, eh?” asks a ser­vice­man.

He need not have wor­ried. A back­room drama, com­posed of el­e­gant early gram­mar, sees Sir John Fisher, First Sea Lord, dis­patch the bat­tle cruis­ers In­vin­ci­ble and In­flex­i­ble. Ul­ti­mately, the film main­tains that wars are won with grit and in­ge­nu­ity and de­ter­mi­na­tion and hard graft and Sea Lords.

It’s im­pos­si­ble not to con­tem­plate its pre-sec­ond World War in­no­cence, its strange pre­fig­ur­ing of another Falk­lands con­flict some seven decades on, and its un­prece­dented tech­ni­cal piz­zazz and am­bi­tion.

A wor­thy ves­sel, in­deed.

Hello sailors! Men o’ war in the bat­tle for the Falk­lands

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