Friday July 7 2:00 AM ET
By Nigel Hunt
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood may have all but ignored Britain's role in winning the Second World War in a series of historically flawed movies, but a documentary about the original English-speaking nation's ``Finest Hour'' has at least made it onto U.S. television.
The two-part documentary, to air on July 10 and 17 on the Public Broadcasting Service, recreates ``The Battle of Britain'' 60 years ago, when England seemed to be on the verge of defeat by a German army that had already conquered Poland, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and France.
Viewers accustomed by such films as ``Saving Private Ryan'' to seeing heroic acts carried out with American accents may be disappointed. But some relief may come from the knowledge that this documentary's hero, Britain's inspirational Prime Minister Winston Churchill, did at least have an American mother.
The Battle of Britain began in the summer of 1940 after the British army had been driven out of continental Europe. German planes fought the heavily outnumbered Royal Air Force for control of the air to pave the way for a seaborne invasion.
At the time, Britain stood alone against the Nazis as a strong U.S. isolationist lobby ensured that America remained out of the war and a nonaggression pact between Hitler and Stalin kept the Soviet Union on the sidelines.
The tide began to turn with the reelection of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt in November 1940, followed by increased American backing for Britain's cause, while Hitler broke his pact with Moscow and invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.
When Ignorance Counts
Series producer Phil Craig said in an interview that at the time all the ``really smart people'' thought the Nazis were absolutely invincible and saw no hope for Britain to continue the fight. These included British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, who had secret contacts with Germany in a bid to leave the door open for a peace that would keep Britain independent but give the Nazis a free rein in mainland Europe.
``Churchill didn't really stand for common sense. He stood for something else, and thankfully for the whole world his view, his rather illogical, romantic view, prevailed,'' Craig said, recalling Mark Twain's words: ``All you need is ignorance and confidence and the success is sure.''
``I believe this is one of those moments when an individual can and did make a huge difference. I think Churchill's leadership was the absolutely key factor in the whole of this year (1940),'' Craig said.
``I don't think he was necessarily the greatest leader before 1940, or indeed after 1940, but for those few months when everything seemed to be on the brink his qualities came to the fore. I do believe had he not been there at that time the story would have had a very different ending.''
The documentary contains harrowing accounts from survivors who saw compatriots' lives cut short in a variety of brutal ways from the fall of Dunkirk through Nazi bombings and submarine attacks on convoys in the English channel.
One sailor recounts listening to a man who had been left to drown yelling ``taxi, taxi,'' as the only ship that could have rescued him sailed away. ``It is a completely chilling moment,'' Craig said, noting such experiences left lifelong emotional scars in an age before counseling became generally available.
The program does not contain any interviews with Germans.
``It was absolutely the first question we asked ourselves: Should we try to make this a comprehensive account of a military campaign and interview the German pilots and the German sailors who I'm sure suffered equally in many ways,'' Craig said.
``We decided not to because, I suppose, it was the 60th anniversary of a classic Anglo-American story and we wanted to get under the skin of that story and somehow it would have been diluted in a more rounded picture,'' he said.
``(Including Germans) perhaps wouldn't have offered such an intensely delineated portrait of one people at one time of history, which was what we were trying to achieve.''
For many Britons the series could not come at a better time because of their feeling that Hollywood war movies have long inflated the U.S. role at the expense of other Allied forces.
``Saving Private Ryan,'' released in 1998 and starring Oscar winner Tom Hanks, came under fire for portraying the United States taking on Germany single-handedly in the D-Day invasion of Normandy, ignoring the role of Britain and other Allies.
This year's ``U-571'' depicts a U.S. submarine crew capturing a German U-boat carrying ``Enigma,'' a device the Nazis used to send coded messages. Their success in the film allows the Allies to crack the code and proves a turning point in the war.
But in fact the British navy was the first to capture an Enigma device and the code was broken by cryptographers at Bletchley Park in England, hastening the Allied victory by several years, historians believe.
``I am just waiting for the Dunkirk film with the Americans on the beaches,'' Craig said, referring to the incident early in the war -- long before Americans got involved after the December 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor -- when a ragtag British flotilla rescued hundreds of thousands of British and French troops as the German army advanced on the French port.
The story does contain American heroes, Craig said, in particular the London-based U.S. journalists who had a key role in changing public opinion at home.
``The American people did not support intervention in this war. For all kinds of reasons they were suspicious of Britain and they probably also thought the British were going to lose and what is the point of getting involved with a bunch of losers,'' Craig said, noting that opinion began to change as news spread about British defiance as London was bombed.
``Those American journalists that told the story are truly important. They are heroes,'' he said.
The final part of the program is dominated by recollections of Edith Heap, whose pilot fiancee was shot down and killed shortly after their engagement. ``Even today, 60 years on, she mourns that man who she knew for a few months,'' Craig said.
``It reminds people that what is needed to make something extraordinary happen like the Battle
of Britain, it takes a lot of personal sacrifice and that doesn't stop, it goes on and on, and I think
it is worth people taking a few seconds to think about that.''
Wednesday July 5 10:14 AM ET Tuesday June 27 2:20 AM ET
Wednesday July 5 10:14 AM ET
Tuesday June 27 2:20 AM ET
By Dean Goodman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The last time many people saw Jon Bon Jovi he was losing his head in submarine thriller ``U-571,'' but the 38-year-old musician has not lost interest in the rock group that bears his name.
Fans could be excused for thinking otherwise. Perhaps the biggest band in the world at the end of the 1980s thanks to No. 1 anthems like ``You Give Love a Bad Name'' and ``Bad Medicine,'' Bon Jovi released just two studio albums in the 1990s.
Theyremained huge overseas, where American rock gods Van Halen once opened for them, but they were overshadowed Stateside as the charts resonated to grunge and rap. Still, they managed to score their first million-selling U.S. single with the 1994 ballad ``Always.''
Bon Jovi and guitarist Richie Sambora released solo albums in 1997 and 1998, respectively. The singer also went Hollywood with small roles in such films as ``Moonlight and Valentino'' and current release ``U-571.''
But the band was never far from their minds, and the hiatus has now ended with ``Crush,'' the band's seventh studio album in 17 years and the first since 1995's ``These Days.'' As the group prepared to launch a summer tour of European stadiums, the record opened at No. 1 in Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Finland and Australia.
In the United States, it opened at No. 9 with sales 37 percent higher than for ``These Days.''
Expect Jon Bon Jovi to pore over the figures as he guides the band -- ``the organization,'' he calls it -- to the next level. Their Island Def Jam label forecasts international sales of 10 million units and he intends to hold the company to that target. (Career sales to date stand at 80 million worldwide.)
Bon Jovi In Hyperspace ``Jon, of course, is a quite intense person, he's an extremely focused and determined character,'' said Sambora, 40. ''Jon and I have both of us been overachievers, but he has now take it into another hyperspace, man.''
Bon Jovi says everyone in the band has a clearly defined role, ``but it revolves around my outlook and then Richie's support of that, and then the guys (keyboardist David Bryan, drummer Tico Torres and bass player Hugh McDonald) fill in their spots in a very definitive way.''
By all accounts, everyone gets along fine. That was not the case 10 years ago when ``we were physically and mentally burned out'' after a never-ending cycle of touring and recording, Bon Jovi recalled. The members, including original bassist Alec John Such, who left in 1994, sat down with a counselor and agreed they had to keep the lines of communication open.
Bon Jovi's name is the one on the record contract, he owns the biggest percentage of the band and makes all the decisions. He also co-writes most of the songs with Sambora, the two of them often playing guitars to each other on a cheap tape recorder. He says his personal wealth is more than $100 million, not bad for the son of a mall barber and a flower arranger.
``Nary a day goes by that I don't thank somebody somewhere for a lot,'' New Jersey-born Bon Jovi said, sipping cappuccino with skim milk during a recent interview in a Beverly Hills hotel. ``I'm very grateful.''
Like Bruce Springsteen, the group is proud of its New Jersey blue-collar roots. ``Crush'' is the first band album recorded totally in the Garden State, at the Red Bank home Bon Jovi shares with wife Dorothea and their two young children. The album's title deliberately means nothing, Bon Jovi says.
Fans Of All Ages
As rock stars need to do after they have lasted a while, the Bon Jovi band is trying to cement its status as an ``all ages'' act. After all, many of the teenyboppers who packed stadiums a dozen years ago now have families and careers. The passage of time has also seen the band ditch the big hair and the Spandex, accouterments that got them labeled as ``poodle rockers.''
``I didn't try to write 'You Give Love a Bad Name' again in the year 2000, but I sat down and wrote 'It's My Life' or 'Just Older,' and so if anything you can come along for the ride.''
Sambora says his 70-year-old father-in-law Bill Locklear, father of actress Heather Locklear, is a huge fan of the first single, ``It's My Life,'' all about living for the moment. ``And I imagine a younger person that would listen to that song would go, 'It's a song about changing direction, doing something positive for yourself,''' Sambora said.
As the one who stands behind the microphone and sings the songs, Bon Jovi has to feel comfortable with the words. Sambora, in a separate interview on the set of a video shoot for the second single ``Say It Isn't So,'' said he often runs lyric ideas past Bon Jovi to see if they are appropriate.
``There were songs on this record that might have been hit songs that we threw out because melodically they sound like hit songs but lyrically, at this stage in our career and our physical ages at this point, we couldn't go out there and sing that stuff,'' Sambora said.
After playing five shows in Japan in July, Bon Jovi kicks off a month-long European tour in Turku, Finland, on Aug. 5. They plan a fall tour of the United States.
By John Dempsey
NEW YORK (Variety) - USA Networks will pay $11 million-$12 million for exclusive broadcast rights to ``U-571,'' Universal's hit submarine thriller starring Matthew McConaughey.
But to land the first network window to the film, the cable channel also had to take four box office duds: ``Screwed,'' the Norm Macdonald comedy that collected only $7.2 million at the domestic box office; Ang Lee's Civil War epic ``Ride With the Devil,'' starring Tobey Maguire and Jewel, which staggered to $631,000; ``Waking the Dead,'' which pulled in $337,933; and ''The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas,'' which will wind up with a disappointing $35 million or so domestically.
All of the networks were interested in picking up ``U-571'' but balked at having to take the whole package. USA and sister network the Sci-Fi Channel have far more need of movies than the Big Four broadcast networks, so USA was willing to take on the lesser titles to get ``U-571,'' which will probably see a domestic gross of close to $80 million.
Movies usually become available to television about two years and nine months after their box office run.
The whole deal is worth about $64 million, since USA also includes 23 library titles such as Eddie Murphy's ``The Nutty Professor,'' ``Liar Liar,'' ``Happy Gilmore,'' ``Daylight'' and ''Dante's Peak.'' USA shelled out about $2 million apiece to get the movies for a four-year license term following their runs on the broadcast networks that bought them in the first network window.
Wednesday June 7 6:07 PM ET
LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday he agreed with those who were upset by a new U.S. movie ``U-571'' that portrayed the Americans and not the British as the first to seize a German Enigma code machine in World War Two.
Blair spoke in parliament in reply to a question from Labor member Brian Jenkins, who asked whether the movie was not ``an affront to the memory of the British sailors who lost their lives on this action.'' ``I agree entirely with what my honorable friend says,'' Blair replied.
``They fought with very great distinction and bravery,'' Blair said of two British men who were awarded the George Cross posthumously for their role in seizing one of the Enigma devices, a machine used by the Nazis to send coded messages.
In reality British sailors were the first to grab one of the Enigma devices and the code was broken by cryptographers at the Bletchley Park center, hastening the Allied victory by several years, historians believe.
Thursday June 8 3:26 PM ET
BY JILL LAWLESS, Associated Press Writer
LONDON (AP) - In the darkest days of World War II, some plucky Allied sailors play a deadly cat-and-mouse game with a German U-boat, hoping to capture its prize - an Enigma coding machine that will enable the Allies to intercept Nazi communications and turn the tide of the war.
There's just one problem. As depicted in the film ``U-571,'' the sailors speak with American accents. And that has aggrieved many in Britain, whose sailors really did capture an Enigma in 1941 - before the United States even entered the war.
Since the film opened here last week, the controversy has filled newspaper columns and resounded in Parliament. Even Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Clinton have been drawn into the fray.
In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Blair said he ``agreed entirely'' with a lawmaker who denounced the film as an ``affront to the memories of the British sailors who lost their lives on this action.''
``We hope that people realize these are people that in many cases sacrificed their lives in order that this country remained free,'' Blair said.
The prime minister is not alone in believing Hollywood needs a history lesson.
Before the film was completed, lawmaker Paul Truswell wrote to Clinton on behalf of his constituents in the Yorkshire community of Horsforth, who six decades ago raised the money to build the HMS Aubretia, one of the ships involved in sinking the German sub in 1941.
Clinton's reply stressed that ``the Royal Navy's action undoubtedly saved thousands of lives and serves as an inspiration for future generations.''
Clinton pointed out, however - as has Universal, the studio behind ``U-571'' - that ``the film is not intended to be an accurate portrayal of historical events.''
The dedication at the film's end acknowledges all the allied servicemen - including the British - involved in capturing Enigma machines during the war. But that has failed to placate many Britons who feel Hollywood too often distorts history at their country's expense.
In The Times newspaper, columnist Simon Jenkins decried ``the deluge of historical hokum coming out of Hollywood.''
The critics point to Steven Spielberg's ``Saving Private Ryan,'' which excised the role of British and Canadian troops on D-Day. And columnists already have derided a planned U.S. remake of `The Colditz Story'' that would depict American POWs escaping from the notorious German prison camp. In fact, not a single American escaped from Colditz.
In 1945, the Errol Flynn film ``Operation Burma'' - which recast the liberation of Burma as an American, rather than British, feat - sparked angry demonstrations in Britain, with the film pulled from screens after only a few days.
Half a century later, that is unlikely to be the fate of ``U-571.'' The Royal British Legion, for example, says it has received no complaints from veterans about the film.
But British moviegoers may be voting with their feet: ``U-571'' has not matched its boffo U.S. success in Britain.
``It has had a limited impact at the box office,'' said Emma Cochrane, editor of the film magazine Empire. ``The word hasn't been good, so people aren't going back.''
Universal defends the film, directed by Jonathan Mostow, as a fictionalized account of the Allied effort to break Nazi communications.
``It's a fictional tale inspired by several actual events,'' said Jeffrey Sakson, senior vice president of national publicity. ``It's not anything that purports to be documentary or a depiction of any one true-life incident.''
And, in fact, Americans were involved in one seizure of an Enigma machine, near the end of the war in 1944. But the events depicted in ``U-571'' most closely resemble those of the 1941 sub capture.
Britain's culture minister, Chris Smith called the film ``a little galling'' - and urged American filmmakers to take a more responsible attitude toward history.
``One of the things we need to make clear to Hollywood is, yes, you are in the entertainment business, but also people who see your movies are going to come away thinking that is information as well as entertainment,'' Smith said.
Still, the film has a fan in an unlikely quarter.
David Balme was a young sub-lieutenant on the HMS Bulldog when he led a boarding party onto the crippled and sinking German U-boat in 1941, seizing the Enigma machine and code book.
``It's a great film,'' Balme told the British Broadcasting Corp. ``It's all blood and thunder and the young people will love it.''
Monday June 5 6:35 AM ET
Monday June 5 6:35 AM ET
By Paul Majendie
LONDON (Reuters) - Whose war was it anyway?
From prison escapes to submarine attacks, Britain has accused Hollywood of blatantly rewriting history so that American heroes are always the celluloid victors.
Steven Spielberg irked the British with his Oscar-winning ''Saving Private Ryan'' that reduced the English to the role of bit players in the 1944 D-day Normandy Invasion.
Now in ``U-571'' American submarine commanders seize German Enigma codemachines -- before the United States even entered the Second World War.
Next comes ``the Colditz Story'' with Tom Cruise, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck lined up to escape from the impregnable German prison -- even though no Americans ever escaped from the castle.
With much of the younger generation taking films at their historical face value, academics and politicians fear that fiction is forever distorting the facts.
``Even undergraduate students would rather watch movies than wade through a textbook without realising that directors are twisting the facts,'' said Judith MacKinlay, who teaches history at City College in the northern town of Manchester.
``Hollywood leaves behind powerful images,'' she told The Sunday Times which reviewed the ``faction'' phenomenon under the banner headline ``Lies, Damned Lies and Hollywood.''
Hollywood argues that good war stories with bankable American superstars are a perfect box office combination.
Wliiam Rubinstein, professor of modern history at the University College of Wales, believes it is a deliberate ploy.
``The great liberal establishment of Hollywood does all it can to blacken the western, imperial colonial past, probably because the Americans largely missed out on the spoils,'' he said.
Now the British government has got in on the act with Culture Secretary Chris Smith, eager to promote the ``Cool Britannia'' image of a cutting edge British arts community, confessing that history rewrites irritated him too.
Smith, keen to see that producers label their creations more clearly as works of fiction, turned his ire on the box office hit ``U-571'' starring Harvey Keitel.
``To have a film that purports to tell us that it was the Americans that did all of this is a little galling, I have to say. Facts should be portrayed as such and when they are not, they should be shown as entertainment,'' he argued.
``Where people tinker with historical events, that should be made absolutely clear,'' he told GMTV.
And soon insult could be added to injury with American stars dramatically escaping from Colditz.
Kenneth Lockwood of the Colditz Association said ``The film will be laughed out of court if it shows Tom Cruise leading a 'Mission Impossible' escape. The problem is people so very easily confuse films with history.''
back to U-571