Britons Mad Over `U-571' Movie
Thursday, June 8th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
LONDON (AP) â€” 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 â€” 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 â€” 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 â€” as has Universal, the studio behind ``U-571'' â€” 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 â€” including the British â€” 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'' â€” which recast the liberation of Burma as an American, rather than British, feat â€” 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'' â€” 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.''
On The Net: http://www.u-571.com