This modest, but neatly turned WWI tele-pic from the BBC flew under the radar. (As might have been expected with radar yet to be invented!) It’s an unlikely, but fact-inspired tale of an Ypres-based regiment who come upon a printing machine in a bombed warehouse and, bored between spasms of deadly action, put it to use. With gallows humor & satirical edge, they publish a morale-boosting weekly that tweaks ‘front’-phobic officers between mordant commentary and doggerel poetry submitted by sentimental doughboys . Some of the material is re-imagined in a hit-and-miss cabaret format, but helmer Andy De Emmony mostly takes advantage of his limited budget by sticking close to a few men in tight quarters (er, trenches), with just enough large-scale action to bring out the horrors of war against the forced spontaneity of putting out a cheeky rag for soldier-boys. (A cemetery bombing and a trench-full of gassed Germans suffice.) Ben Chaplin long out of the Hollywood rat race and now in his mid-40s, remains a handsome, likable presence, and shows effortless command as Regiment Captain, ably assisted by the pleasingly rumpled Julian Rhind-Tutt. Michael Palin brings a walrus-worthy mustache and laid-back manner to the sympathetic general who brushes aside complaints against the paper, though the script might have come up with more than one naysayer in the whole British Army. Believable, unpretentious and nice, not your typical WWI Lost-Generation saga.
DOUBLE-BILL: Rowan Atkinson’s BLACK ADDER GOES FORTH/’89 takes his conniving character to the trenches of WWI for a final series of appalling comedy and an unexpected, dead-stop end.