Tom Hanks in 1998 film Saving Private Ryan.
Tom Hanks in 1998 film Saving Private Ryan.

Top 10 Anzac-inspired movies to watch at home

Anzac Day marches and commemorations at local pubs and clubs have been cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis, so once again Australians have been told to celebrate at home.

And a great way to do that is watch Anzac movies. There have been many which have made an impact over time.

Here are best of ANZAC-inspired viewings to watch.

 

1. GALLIPOLI

Foxtel Store

Peter Weir's tale of two friends thrown on to the front line at the famous battle on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey.

 

Mel Gibson and Mark Lee in a scene from Gallipoli.
Mel Gibson and Mark Lee in a scene from Gallipoli.

 

A scene from Gallipoli, which was directed by Peter Weir.
A scene from Gallipoli, which was directed by Peter Weir.

2. NANCY WAKE: GESTAPO'S MOST WANTED

Foxtel, History Channel, April 25, 8.30pm

A gripping doco about Nancy Wake, a Kiwi-born nurse and journalist who joined the French resistance during World War II and later earned worldwide notoriety after it was discovered she rode a bicycle 500 kilometres to deliver a situation report to the Allied Forces' SOE (Special Operations Executive) in London.

 

3. THE BATTLE OF LONG TAN

Foxtel, History Channel, April 25, 3.30pm

A fascinating insight into the most-publicised Australian battle of the Vietnam War, where a company of 100 Australia soldiers held off an estimated 2000 North Vietnamese.

 

4. THE GREAT ESCAPE

Friday April 24 at 4:30pm on SBS

Not to be mistaken for John Sturges' classic Hollywood film starring Steve McQueen, this doco tells the real story of that famed Nazi prison escape effort from the point of view of one of the last survivors of the real-life incident - British pilot Jack Lyon - prior to his death last March.

Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman in The Railway Man.
Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman in The Railway Man.

5. THE RAILWAY MAN

Friday April 24 at 9:30pm on SBS World Movies

Starring Australia's Nicole Kidman, this 2013 film follows the journey of former British Army officer Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) in his search to track down the Japanese interpreter who tortured him as a POW.

 

6. THE LONGEST WAR

Stan

A companion documentary feature to the Peabody-award winning TV series Homeland (currently airing its final season on SBS Viceland) The Longest War unpacks the CIA's long and complicated history in Afghanistan. Included is an interview with real-life CIA field operative Lisa Maddox, on whom Homeland's Carrie Mathison is based.

 

7. THE DAM BUSTERS

Friday April 24, 5.55pm on 9 GEM.

The British classic that tells the story of eccentric inventor Barnes Wallis and his plan to invent a bouncing bomb to destroy Germany's Ruhr dams.

Richard Todd as Guy Gibson and Michael Redgrave as Barnes Wallis in a scene from the 1955 film The Dam Busters.
Richard Todd as Guy Gibson and Michael Redgrave as Barnes Wallis in a scene from the 1955 film The Dam Busters.

 

8. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN

Saturday April 25 on 9 GEM

Following the Normandy landings, a group of US soldiers go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose three brothers have been killed in action.

Tom Hanks starred in 1998 film Saving Private Ryan.
Tom Hanks starred in 1998 film Saving Private Ryan.

9. DOWNFALL

Netflix

This portrayal of Adolf Hitler's final days in his bunker is based on the memoirs of his secretary Traudl Jung.

 

Actor Juliane Kohler with Bruno Ganz and Albert Speer in scene from the movie Downfall.
Actor Juliane Kohler with Bruno Ganz and Albert Speer in scene from the movie Downfall.

10. PARADISE ROAD

Stan

Bruce Beresford's 1997 Australian film tells the story of a group of English, American, Dutch and Australian women who are imprisoned by the Japanese in Sumatra during World War II.

 

Glenn Close (centre) in Paradise Road with Cate Blanchett (left) and Jennifer Ehle (right) Picture: AP Photo
Glenn Close (centre) in Paradise Road with Cate Blanchett (left) and Jennifer Ehle (right) Picture: AP Photo

HOW MARK LEE HELPED MAKE HISTORY IN GALLIPOLI

At 22 and with no acting credits, a young hippy would land a role in a movie about two friends in WWI. It would go on to be regarded as the greatest Australian film of all time.

It was 40 years ago that Mark Lee was literally plucked from obscurity to star in a film that would change the course of Australian movie history.

A 22-year-old Lee, until that point an acting novice and bit player, decided to hitchhike down to Sydney for a weekend from the NSW Central Coast where he had been living in a bus-turned-hippy commune.

"No running water, no electricity … we had to pump our own water from a tank," laughed Lee, now 62 and living at his long-time home in Gladesville with wife Marianne.

"But I was signed to this tiny (talent) agency and they said: 'Do you want to do a job that pays $80 a day?' which, you know, in 1980 was a heck of a lot of money.

"They said: 'All you need to do is ponce around in some sand dunes'. So I said: 'Of course, why not?'."

 

Mark Lee starred with Mel Gibson in Gallipoli.
Mark Lee starred with Mel Gibson in Gallipoli.

 

The sand dunes would be a makeshift backdrop for a photo shoot conducted by acclaimed director Peter Weir who was shooting stills for an upcoming war movie he hoped to shop around in search of various government film grants.

In the course of the shoot Lee - with his boy-next-door good looks and golden tan - would catch the eye of Weir.

"I had honestly forgotten all about it when I got another call back asking me to audition. Which I did," he said.

"More months went by. And then I heard back again that I had it."

Mark Lee was the star of the 1981 film Gallipoli. Picture: Bob Barker
Mark Lee was the star of the 1981 film Gallipoli. Picture: Bob Barker

Despite reading for the part of Frank Dunne - a role ultimately played by the then little-known TV actor by the name of Mel Gibson - Lee was cast in the lead role of Archy Hamilton, a rising track star who casts his athletics dreams aside to join the famed Light Horse.

A long and gruelling film shoot would throw the two actors together in what Lee describes as a "strangely ominous" experience, with early feelings among cast and crew that they were a part of something "special".

"It's hard to explain. But there was definitely a sense that we were all a part of something big, even from the early days," said Lee.

"We had guys who were part of the technical crew who were asking to be extras … just so they could have one or two seconds on the screen. Just to have a moment captured that would live on forever."

Gallipoli was released in the winter of 1981 in Australia and would stay in cinemas for a record nine months, five months longer than the next longest-running Aussie film, Crocodile Dundee, in 1987.

It also made instant stars of Lee and Gibson, however fate would see their careers fan out in wildly different directions.

Gibson would jump straight into Weir's next film The Year Of Living Dangerously and soon after into the role that shot him to worldwide stardom - Mad Max.

Mel Gibson shone in his role in Gallipoli.
Mel Gibson shone in his role in Gallipoli.

Lee, in turn, made something of a fruitless run at Hollywood, a frustrating experience consisting of "endless meetings that went absolutely nowhere".

"When you have only got one credit that they know of in Hollywood, you become yesterday's news very quickly," he said.

"You could see there wasn't enough interest. You know, I moved around from meeting to meeting and a few things were mooted but nothing really came of it.

"And deep down I knew I had a lot I really needed to learn. I was incredibly inexperienced."

Lee would return to Australia and begin what would be a hugely successful stage career that would also, occasionally, veer into both acting and directing.

His most notable directing turn was The Bet, starring Aden Young and Sybilla Budd, which would make $3 million at the Aussie box office and earned Budd an AFI acting nomination for Best Actor.

Gallipoli is an iconic Australian movie. Picture: Supplied
Gallipoli is an iconic Australian movie. Picture: Supplied

Occasionally his path would cross with Gibson though he said the pair generally existed on "different planets".

"He seems to have found some peace lately though," said Lee, referring to Gibson's spectacular Hollywood fall from grace which began in 2006 and has continued at various intervals since.

"I feel like what happened to him is a hard thing for some people to understand.

"You have so much thrust on you in that world … wealth and power and fame.

"And it comes at full force to some people and that's definitely what happened to him.

"And to his credit he survived it, which many don't. A lot slip away."

Lee, meanwhile, said he is happy in his world of relative obscurity, albeit with the occasional reminder of his role in the movie regarded by many as the greatest Australian film ever made.

"It's kids that recognise me now," he laughed.

"Because they play it in schools as, I guess, part of Australian history curriculum. They look at me and say: 'It's you but … you're old'."

Originally published as Top 10 Anzac-inspired movies to watch at home