A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Wipers Times (Andy De Emmony, 2013)

While reading about World War I, I came across a reference to The Wipers Times, a satirical newspaper published by British soldiers at the front, and remembered the listing for this film on The Movie Channel. It turns out to be a made-for-TV movie that first appeared on the BBC. It stars the engaging actor Ben Chaplin, who has never made the A-list despite appearing in some well-known movies like The Truth About Cats and Dogs (Michael Lehmann, 1996) and The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, 1999). Chaplin plays Capt. Fred Roberts, who started the newspaper along with Lt. Jack Pearson (Julian Rhind-Tutt), after they came across a workable printing press and a supply of paper while scavenging for materials to shore up their trench near Ypres (which the soldiers of course pronounced "Wipers"). With contributions from soldiers, typically irreverent about conditions at the Front and the incompetence of the "brass hats" safely away from the action, the newspaper served as an unofficial morale-builder. The film, written by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman, manages to overlook the usual horrors of war to celebrate the resilience of the people who endure what has been described (and quoted in the movie) as "months of boredom punctuated by moments of terror." It also borrows from a better-known film, Good Morning, Vietnam (Barry Levinson, 1988), in which DJ Adrian Cronauer (Robin Williams), attracted the attention of the brass with his broadcasts over Armed Services Radio. In that film, Cronauer is attacked by a humor-impaired officer played by J.T. Walsh, but defended by a general played by Noble Willingham. In The Wipers Times, the stuffed-shirt officer is played by Ben Daniels and the defending general by Michael Palin. The tension between the troops and the brass is needed to provide dramatic shape to material that's not inherently cinematic -- excerpts from the newspaper are performed as music-hall skits -- and the result is pleasant if unmemorable.