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D-Day movies/documentaries as a preparation for a visit to Normandy

I'm a WWII history buff, but my wife knows nothing about the war and generally is not interested in history. We'll be visiting Normandy this spring and I'm looking for a great documentary for my wife to watch that provides a good overview and background to the invasions without being boring or going into too much detail. Yes, I could give her the rundown and prep her, but when I've tried before, her eyes just glaze over because I feed her so much detail. I firmly believe that she won't enjoy what she's seeing on the beaches without some good background. Which documentaries or movies did you watch before visiting the sites? I'm particularly interested in hearing from people that are relative newbies to this sort of thing. My thought is that we also go to the museum in Bayeux prior to seeing the sites; the one in Caen will probably be overkill for her but heaven for me.

Posted by
2193 posts

Ed must have missed the part that mentions "as close as a film can get anyway". Maybe he was there? Regardless, when Saving Private Ryan was released, it was widely reported that vets who were, in fact, there were profoundly touched by the authenticity of the invasion/battle scenes in this film. As for Band of Brothers, the flippin' real dudes who were there and consulted for the series are on camera, speaking about the real-life experience you're about to see in each episode. I'm pretty sure they know what they're talking about. Nope...I have no idea what real battle is like. Others do. Films are about close as most of us will ever get to kind of understanding this terrible experience. That's all.

Posted by
8064 posts

Perhaps your wife would be interested in the DVD part of the "Band of Brothers" where they show the making of the film, with the actors meeting the real guys, what they had to say, and also the actors learning how to act their parts as WW2 soldiers. I think even people who aren't interested in history (and the sacrifices made here) would find at least this part interesting.

Posted by
2193 posts

I haven't visited the beaches, but if you want to give her an idea of what it may have been like, show her the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan...it's realistic and terrifying. Then, show her the final scenes of My Way (in Japanese/Korean with English subtitles)...also realistic and tragic. These are the two best examples I've ever seen of what it may have really been like that day (as close as a film can get anyway). Just make sure you have a box of Kleenex handy...I feel like I need one even as I type this just thinking about these scenes. Another decent option is the Band of Brothers episode on the invasion...I think it's titled Day of Days. These won't provide the historical information you're looking for in a documentary fashion, but it may help her appreciate the sacrifice, the human toll, etc. for her visit.

Posted by
404 posts

Thanks for the info. Unfortunately I tried to watch both Private Ryan and Band of Brothers with her and she just got grossed out and left the room. The Longest Day might be a good idea. I haven't seen it in years but I seem to recall the scenes weren't as vivid and realistic but probably fine for this purpose.

Posted by
9110 posts

Huh? You can read the histories (both sides), the commanders' perspective (both sides), and the troopers' perspectives (both sides) but...... .....unless you've scrambled across a major battlefield ducking, screaming, and shooting when you're so exhausted you can't see straight..... ....and walked back across it a bit later smelling the guts, puke, and dung(both sides) while you try to pick up the pieces (both sides) ....... .....a movie don't show squat-all realistic despite somebody's imagination.

Posted by
44 posts

Marcus I could have wrote that question - planning to go this Oct. Guide books with pictures of the pretty countryside seems to have worked. I read in WWII Magazine that Saving Pvt Ryan and Band of Brothers have caused a new interest in D Day in the younger generation and an increase in tourists. I keep the Military Channel on all day and night - but that hasn't helped. I have found that once we get there she is very interested - went to Verdun and Reims last year and once there she was very impressed and interested. But I have to give in and pass things up - I was so close to the Bridge at Remegen site. Check out tracesofwar.com

Posted by
1005 posts

Regarding the museums, the one is Caen is actually better for a novice than the one in Bayeux. I was in both last spring. The one in Bayeux is geared toward a military history buff. It has exhibits on both the invasion and the Battle of Normandy that go into great detail on troop movements, counterattacks, aerial bombardments, etc. The one in Caen is a WWII museum (one of the finest in the world) that covers the lead-up to the war, all the theaters of the war (though much of the emphasis is on France, of course), and the aftermath. There are also exhibits about Berlin during the Cold War and a gallery of editorial cartoons about the war. My wife enjoyed this museum quite a lot, even though she is not a WWII fanatic. She would have been bored at the Bayeux Museum.

Posted by
671 posts

Try Ellwood von Seibold's DVD "The Americans on D-Day" sold by Livingbattlefield.com and shown on some PBS stations. Ellwood (who in real life is a battlefield guide) drives around in a restored 1943 Dodge Command car, visits the sites of major action, interviews veterans who were there, and views the events through the soldier's eyes in real time. He wears uniforms of the day (American and German) and is quite entertaining despite the somber subject. Certainly not the blood and gore of Saving Private Ryan, so maybe something your wife might actually watch. Von Seibold also has done DVDs on Operation Market Garden and Battle of the Bulge. I bought all 3 DVDs and thought they were well done and provided a different perspective on these important WWII battles/operations.

Posted by
2876 posts

My recommendation is the History Channel's documentary from 20 years ago: D-Day: The Total Story. I'm a history buff and this tells the story as well and as thoroughly as anything else I've seen. It's a 3-DVD series. You can get it on Amazon if you're interested.

Posted by
12739 posts

Hi, On documentaries as a preparation for Normandy: I recommend the episode on D-Day and Normandy in the "Battlefield" series. It was shown on PBS in 1990s. Very easy to follow, well explained, even though it has an operational bias to it, but I am sure you'll be delighted in seeing how the units of the various armies are deployed. My suggestion is to see both museums that at Caen and Bayeux. I agree that Caen is information overload and overkill but that doesn't matter if you're well familiar with the history and the road to aggression in the interwar years. Both museums are not difficult to follow but Bayeux is more concise, Caen a good deal more detailed, not just focused on Normandie. I agree with seeing Pvt. Ryan and The Longest Day, not Band of Brothers.

Posted by
5221 posts

"The Longest Day" impressed me more 40+ years ago than it does now, but it does put the invasion in some context, depicts the beach landings less graphically than "Private Ryan" (black and white helps), and gives some attention to the German perspective. The characters are pretty broadly drawn, but most (all?) of them are actual people. Instead of Tom Hanks you get John Wayne, which kinda says what kinda movie it is, but you're not necessarily looking for the best movie as such, just for a reasonable depiction of events. The movie was based on Cornelius Ryan's book of the same title, you might look for it in the library or bookstore or Amazon. I haven't read, but he had a good reputation and I'm sure it's quite readable and well-researched. Bayeux also has the great tapestry depicting, in the art form of its time, the corresponding previous cross-channel invasion of 1066. Takes more imagination than watching a movie but well worth seeing if you're there.

Posted by
3696 posts

There is a fair amount of information given when you are there, and maybe, once she goes, it will peak her interest and she might want to learn more about what she has seen when she gets home... or maybe not. I don't think you need to know all the details of the invasion to be moved when you are at the American Cemetery...I did not have a burning desire to go there, but my grandson wanted to go...so we went. After I came home I watched as many movies/documentaries as I could...but that was because I wanted to, but it never made me think that my experience there would have been better if I had watched them before. We were there in Nov, so we were almost alone, which was great and added to the solemnness of the experience.

Posted by
2000 posts

It's always good to know at least a little of the history of a place you visit. Both Saving Private Ryan and Longest Day are good movies to view the realities of the landing battle. But if your wife is not interested in this, the museum at Caen should give her a very good introduction to WWII and the Normandy invasion. I am a woman, not a war buff, but I found it very interesting. I spent more time there than I expected to.

Posted by
1878 posts

A quick Google search shows that PBS American Experience did a D-Day documentary which though I have not seen it, I am sure is excellent based upon other pieces in this series. Maybe Ken Burns The War documentary, though I think that may be organized more along thematic lines rather that chronologically/by battle. I always liked the Longest Day, and found Private Ryan overrated if only because we were all supposed to like it so much. On your trip, start with the American cemetery. I cannot imagine anyone not being moved by that and gaining an instant appreciation for history. Truly awe inspiring. Build in Honfleur and Mont St. Michel if you have time, to not make the region a one note piano for the two of you. Also Baeyaux is a nice town on its own. Don't miss the Bayeaux Tapestry.

Posted by
31433 posts

Marcus, The Longest Day will probably be the most palatable movie for your Wife to watch, as it provides a good overview of the landings and history from all perspectives - American, British, German and French. Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers are both excellent, but may be overwhelming for her, and as you mentioned her eyes may "glaze over" when watching them. The Longest Day is strictly concerned with the D-Day landings, so it's more "on topic" for what you'll be seeing. Private Ryan is mostly concerned with the story behind retrieving one person from the battlefield and Band of Brothers covers the entire wartime experience of one Regiment, of which the D-Day landings were only one part. Rather than just wander around visiting the various beaches and other historic sites (which might bore your wife), I would highly recommend taking one of the exceptional D-Day tours in that area. The Guides are outstanding and they really make the history "come alive". There are both half-day and full-day versions, so your Wife may be happier knowing that the time frame for touring invasion sites is finite. I can provide names of some of the tour firms if you're interested. If the tour you choose includes St. Mere Eglise, that provides an interesting connection to the Longest Day. Regarding the excellent D-Day Museum in Bayeux, a good "compromise" might be for your wife to browse through the shops and markets of Bayeux one afternoon while you go to the Museum. That should keep everybody happy. Bayeux is a perfect home base for touring that area, and I'd recommend a visit to the famous Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts a much earlier invasion and battle. Happy travels!

Posted by
8251 posts

I agree with Terry Kathryn that being there will get her interested, and she'll want to explore further afterwards. One key would be sn excellent guide who tells the stories and shows photos and maps bringing it all back to lifr. We had Julian from Overlord Tours who did an excellent job. It also helped us get from point A to point B efficiently.

Posted by
537 posts

Our group did a tour originating from the Museum in Caen - one history buff, 2 mildly interested and one along for the ride. We all found the tour to be great - it covered the museum , lunch and then the beaches. The tour guides gave enough info to be interesting but not boring to someone whose eyes glaze over. Then we had time to explore the museum on our own. We overnighted in Bayeaux. The next day two of the history buffs went directly to the DDay Museum. The other 2 went to the Tapestry and then split up. One went shopping, one went on a quick dash thru the Museum and then on to the Bayeaux War Cemetery - meeting up with the history buffs. I dont agree that the museum in Caen will be boring for your wife - she will probably not spent as much time there and may choose different exhibits ( I spent a lot of time looking at the political cartoons) . Anyway- I am sure you do as many do - allow for some days apart - it worked for us .
By the way - Normandy was our highlight of the trip - totally unexpected

Posted by
12739 posts

Hi, I would say that the Bayeux Museum can serve as an introduction to the more detailed information overload one might come away with after seeing the Caen Museum, which does cover alot more history. You'll note that the Bayeux Museum has the PAK 40 gun displayed.

Posted by
143 posts

I would suggest getting a very basic map of the area showing the various beaches as well as a few of the important venues (such as St. Mere Eglise, Pointe du Hoc, the American Cemetery, etc.). Learn a one- or two-sentence description of what happened in each place. Then when you get there you will at least have a little idea of the geography and important events. If you take one of the tours (which I highly recommend), your guides will fill in the rest. Touring the beaches area is a very moving experience and Bayeux is a great little town with wonderful restaurants.

Posted by
864 posts

So here I go. My husband is a WWII buff. I am something of a history buff so have a good grasp of the Normandy Landing (my hero is the beach master but anyway...). I do not do the Normandy beaches with him anymore. You two are not joined at the hip I hope. 1+1 is still 2 although I have met couples who are shocked that my main man of 40 years and I go our separate ways on occasion. How about a private tour for the two of you or a 2 hour tour, guided by you, in a rental car and then leaving your wife in Bayeux for a quite day of walking around, having a grand lunch, that sort of thing. You will never ever get her interested in the Normandy landing if she's just not interested and the more you push the more you'll get pushback. If you don't like peas can anyone get you to like them - tolerate yes, but like, ah no. Trying to drag her around because surely she'll see how interesting it is, well, are you newly wed? My husband has a grand time touring the sites and I have a lovely time wandering about in Bayeux. We both end up having had a wonderful day.

Posted by
68 posts

Marcus, If you can find World at War videos, from the 70's I believe, they have excellent information on all aspects of WW II, including the D Day landings and the allies drive to Germany and the Germans fierce resistance. Very entertaining with actual footage and interviews from both sides. No totally in depth, but I think your wife would enjoy them. Another idea is After the Battle magazines. They show pics from the war and those same spots as they are today. Very interesting.

Posted by
3696 posts

@Marie... your idea makes the most sense of any.... why would you want to force someone to like something just because you do? I hesitated to say that, but I am pretty independent and would not be happy following around after someone when I want to be doing something else and have no interest in it. Waste of my time. It also diminishes the experience for me if I know I am dragging along an unwilling participant. Spend your days separate then share your stories later. It will be a much better day.

Posted by
11613 posts

Not in relelease yet (due in December) is the film Monuments Men, about the WWII army unit in charge of protecting monuments and tracking down stolen/hidden artwork in Northern Europe. There's a book by the same name/author, and another on Italy (Saving Italy). Also a good documentary on the subject called (I think) Raping Europa. If your wife isn't a war buff, the art angle might be an interesting start.

Posted by
515 posts

I wouldn't really try too many movies. But once in Normandy, visit the places that tug at the heartstrings and give meaning to what our American boys and our allies accomplished and sacrificed in those war years....the American Cemetery, the little church at Angoville au Plain, the little towns that still fly American flags in honor and memory....tour with a guide who can tell the remarkable stories of the men who served in Normandy, on the beach where the Bedford boys landed, in the hedgerows, on the Omaha Beach overlook (WN60) where Jimmy Monteith earned his Medal of Honor, in the huge craters atop Pointe du Hoc, and even the German Cemetery is haunting, oh my, the stories are endless and unforgettable. After some of these sights, then perhaps a museum or two for more explanation. Have a great trip. Be sure to visit the Bayeux Cathedral and Tapestry as well.