A new Dutch war movie is taking Netflix’s streaming charts by storm. The Forgotten Battle climbed to Netflix’s Top 10 in the US, the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France within one day of premiering. It’s already received awards for best editing, cinematography, sound design, production design, and costume design. And although the film’s massive budget reveals itself through special effects on par with those in Saving Private Ryan and cinematography that rivals that of 1917, it’s the interweaving of three unlikely acquaintances that makes the movie stand apart from its big-budget predecessors.
The Forgotten Battle recounts the Canadian-led effort during World War II to save the Allied advance across Europe. The $16 million film was directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. (The Thing, 2011) and is the second-most-expensive Dutch movie ever made. It manages to celebrate the heroic Canadian sacrifice while remaining overtly anti-war in its portrayal of the Battle of the Scheldt.
The 1944 battle took place in the Scheldt estuary that straddles Belgium and the Netherlands. In an attempt to gain access to the port of Antwerp — a key resupply location for the Allied forces that landed in France on D-Day and later jumped into Holland — the Allies launched an assault to seize the Scheldt river and estuary from German control. The costly battle was ultimately an Allied victory, though it came at the cost of approximately 13,000 Allied lives, more than half of whom were Canadian.
The Forgotten Battle follows three characters: a Dutch boy serving in the German Army, a British glider pilot, and a Dutch girl who joins the Dutch resistance. The three young adults experience the climactic battle differently before fatefully crossing paths with one another.
Despite the Dutch film being about the liberation of Holland, van Heijningen takes the Swiss approach and keeps the film firmly neutral. The German soldiers are depicted sympathetically (save for one particularly evil Nazi). Like the British and Canadian troops, most of the young men in the Wehrmacht are sympathetic characters — scared and fighting with the sole goal of surviving.
According to the text that opens the film, 2,283 civilians were killed during the battle, and while many big-budget films ignore the common reality of civilian casualties in war, van Heijningen includes depictions of noncombatant deaths caused by both Allied and Axis troops, adding to the moral ambiguity of both sides and grounding the film firmly in the anti-war genre.
An animated map precedes The Forgotten Battle’s opening scene, establishing the operation’s historic significance and educating viewers on the importance of an Allied victory at Scheldt while allowing them to empathize with the myriad characters on both sides of the conflict.
The Forgotten Battle is a visually stunning war movie that concerns itself with the waste of war rather than more traditional — and often simplistic — themes of valor and glory. The Dutch film mimics the same color gradient and 45-degree shutter of other popular World War II dramas but still manages to elevate its characters above the spectacle of full-scale battle scenes.