In war, that which sounds mundane can lead to compelling drama. Such was the Battle of the Scheldt, the fight to control a river route to the port of Antwerp in order to supply the Allied armies as they marched from Normandy through France into Germany. On paper, this may sound like the stuff of wargames or spreadsheets. In reality, it put human beings in a warzone.
Such is The Forgotten Battle, a 2021 Dutch World War II movie about the Battle of the Scheldt. (Antwerp is in Belgium, but the fighting took place in the southwestern Netherlands.) It is a film tinged with the sense that the war will soon be over, that Germany will be defeated, that the Wehrmacht will retreat, and that the Netherlands will soon be free. If you’ve played Company of Heroes, you may notice a similarity to that game’s Panzer Elite campaign (which, incidentally, was also set in the Netherlands).
There are only so many combat scenes. The bulk of the tension of this film is through the inherent problems of living in an occupied country. The people of Zeeland (this corner of the Netherlands) are chafing under years of German rule, and can see glimmers of freedom on the horizon. Some of its characters are these Dutch, including a brother who taunted the Germans publicly and a sister who is trying to save him from execution. You also meet resistance fighters, eager to seize the chance to throw off the foreign yoke.
The other major protagonists are British. These are young men who have been thrown into chaos and are trying to survive it; not an uncommon arc in war stories. The war they experience is nasty, brutish and short, as life in war often is. These Britons are a good portrayal of the dynamics of a small group of soldiers as they become ever more strained and exhausted. When they hole up in a house, this is at its most emotionally affecting.
The action is sparse but meaningful. The climax is filled with pyrotechnics, as these films often are, but the most outstanding action scene to me is earlier in the film. It involves the British attack on Zeeland using gliders pulled by planes. The scene focuses on the men aboard one of these gliders as their craft is slowly ripped apart by German antiaircraft fire. It is the most intense scene in the film, heavily reminiscent of the opening scene of the 2018 war horror film Overlord (review here), and a scene that I will remember.
The Forgotten Battle is yet more proof that the war movie is not dead. It is healthy and well, but not always made through Hollywood. Between this and The Resistance Banker, I’m starting to think the Dutch may have some more stories like this to tell, and I look forward to them. This film is well worth the watch.