Helmed by Dutch filmmaker Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., best known for his sci-fi horror thriller ‘The Thing,’ ‘The Forgotten Battle’ (originally titled: ‘De Slag om de Schelde’) is a trilingual ambient war drama that follows three characters: Marinus, a low-ranking Axis soldier, Teuntje, a clerk at the Zeeland mayor’s office, and William, an English pilot fresh out of the academy and ready to go to the battlefield. Their paths merge and collide at the backdrop of a war-torn Europe, culminating in the visceral Battle of Walcheren Causeway.
In Netflix’s first-ever Dutch original, Gijs Blom, Jamie Flatters, and Susan Radder take up the central roles, with the graceful presence of the ‘Harry Potter’ franchise famed Tom Felton. The camerawork is impeccable, the CGI is believable, and the tense story is brought to life by a guiding score. It is natural for many to wonder whether the compelling story is rooted in reality. Well, let’s find out!
Is The Forgotten Battle Based on A True Story?
Yes, ‘The Forgotten Battle’ is based on a true story. Right at the beginning, the movie explains to the audience that the story is quite well tethered to the history of World War II. The animation in the early scenes gives us a historical context of the tale, set pretty late in the war. The Axis power had strengthened its iron grip all over Europe, but the invasion of the Allied forces saw the German Army retreating. June 6, 1944, marks the Battle of Normandy, known as ‘D-day’ in popular historiography.
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In the movie, the Canadian Army progressed towards the Netherlands, ambushing the German Army in the way. Still, they can’t get to Antwerp, thanks to the Germans’ deliberate flooding of the areas around Scheldt estuary. Thus begins a crisscross epic tale – and with a lavish production budget of $16 million, the movie is also the second most expensive project in the history of Dutch cinema. The National Fund for Peace, Freedom, and Veterans Care (VFonds) approached producer Alain de Levita following the Dutch war period drama ‘The Resistance Banker,’ which premiered in 2018.
VFonds wanted to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands while attempting to give the younger generations a glimpse of a forgotten chapter in their national history. There are rarely better ways to evoke a sense of national identity than cinema. Thus, the feature film format was decided. Alain contacted his companion Paula van der Oest, who led a team of five and finalized the screenplay. The producer also got in touch with director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., who became engaged in the project early.
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Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.s’ visionary directorial approach brings the somber and epic battle drama to life. He seemingly knows how to make things epic and intense, and his extensive knowledge of CGI came to define the epic visual style of the drama. Paula van der Oest and her team of writers (including the director) opted for mosaic-style storytelling rather than a straightforward narrative to bring out the nuances of the war. The story is told from three different perspectives, which is strikingly different from a simple story of “us versus them.”
According to the director, this was necessary to make the theme of liberation relevant for the younger generation. However, the writing team researched extensively to stay true to history. Most of the details of the movie, including Tom Felton’s character Tony Turner, are taken from historical accounts. An entry in the Rhyl Journal on July 6, 1944, documents the death of Sergeant Air Gunner Patrick Anthony Turner from Royal Air Force in airborne action. However, according to the report, he went missing in February that year, and the timelines do not match with one depicted in the film.
With this exception, however, the film gets most of the nitty-gritty of the eponymous forgotten battle the Scheldt right, including the visceral ending Battle of Walcheren Causeway that ultimately led to the liberation of the Netherlands on May 5, 1945. The ending remembers the death toll, amounting to 3231 Allies, 4250 Germans, and 2283 Civilians. Thus, we infer that ‘The Forgotten Battle’ stands quite well on accounts of its historical credibility, despite some unintentional anachronisms.