Southampton International Film Festival 2013 review: In The Hour of Victory ★★★★☆

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The opening screening of day two of the Southampton International Film Festival was this touching, family-orientated, World War II documentary. In The Hour of Victory truly is a family endeavour. Based upon the book of the same name written by the grandson of its subject, the film was also financed by the author’s father. Effectively ploughing the emotional depths of one the most significant conflicts in world history, this documentary is an intensely moving piece of cinema.

The focal point of the film is the experience of Major Anthony F Smith of the Lincolnshire regiment in World War II. It is structured around the letters Anthony wrote to his wife Faith over the course of his service prior to his death near the end of the war. This is interspersed with footage of the conflict, as well as interviews with family and a selection of WWII experts.

Separated into chapters, the film very much concerns itself with the narrative of Major Smith’s experience. Key events of the war of course come into play, but it is the experience of the individual that makes this film so captivating. Particularly given the fact that it focuses on an individual within the British forces which tend to be presented as a faceless multitude in most films of the genre.

Despite efforts to paint Major Smith as the protagonist of the piece, I often found myself empathising most with the family that were waiting for him to come home. Some of the most heart wrenching moments were the interviews with Major Smith’s son, often too tearful to speak, or when forced to consider Major Smith’s wife having to come to terms with his determination to see active duty before the end of the conflict.

To a certain extent the film is a eulogy to a fallen family member, and consequently my only criticism of this film is that it is possibly a little too long. Things begin to drag early on in the second half as the content of the letters begin to merge together, expressing the same ideas and values that had already been made clear.  From a filmic perspective this tendency to over-eulogise, whilst possibly cathartic to those involved with the making of the film, can get a little tedious from an audience’s perspective.

What I enjoyed most about this film was the extent to which it was stressed that Major Smith’s contribution to the war effort was miniscule in effect in the grand scheme of things, but huge in the context of his family. Major Smith is used as an icon to represent what so many previously faceless families in WWII were forced to endure and sacrifice for the defence of their country.

Its nomination for Best Documentary is by no means undeserved. However, with two more days of the festival yet to cover, time has yet to reveal its competition.

In The Hour of Victory (2012) screened at the Southampton International Film Festival in October 2013. 

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