Friday 01 February 2008
This deeply affecting movie, first released in 1975 but almost forgotten, distils the run-up to the Normandy landings of June 1944 into a lyrical, black-and-white dream of stoicism and sacrifice. Stuart Cooper made this docudrama in collaboration with the Imperial War Museum and ace cinematographer John Alcott, who uses period lenses and stock to blend with archive footage of aerial bombardment, blitzed streets and military manoeuvres.
We follow an unassuming young man named Tom (Brian Stirner) through training, moments of camaraderie and the anxious wait for combat; the film seems to be happening inside Tom's mind, as he tries to reconcile a historical shift with his own life – and the premonition of his death. Most war movies focus on heroism, and Overlord does, too, but in such a spare, unheroic fashion that even its stock elements – like the politely romantic interlude with a girl at a dance, and the banter with mates (Nicholas Ball, Davyd Harries) – become terribly moving. Stirner's innocent, unexceptional face haunts the film long before it's over, and part of its greatness is that we seem to read in it an expression of individual loss that war otherwise mulches into the generic and impersonal.
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