When we think about films depicting war, it’s fair to say that for the most part (though not always) they are seen from a male perspective and have a verymasculine feel. In early cinema this was no exception, though there were a few films made which explored how war affected women’s lives. Generally, women were seen in caring roles, or as icons of forbidden love – very often in situations in which their sexuality could lead them into trouble. Here are a few notable examples of classic war films in which the main protagonists were female.
Women in War on Film: Barbed Wire
Barbed Wire, a vehicle for the sultry and melodramatic actress Pola Negri is an interesting film indeed. It was released in 1927 and is actually based upon a novel called The Women of Knockaloe written by Hall Caine. However, when the adaptation from page to screen was made, some radical alterations took place which almost render it unrecognizable from the original in places. At the time, cinema goers wanted films with happy endings – and as the novel did not have one, it had to be reinvented to make it more appealing to people visiting the flickers.
Negri is an enchanting presence at the best of times and in this film she plays a French farm girl, Mona, who ends up falling in love with German Prisoner of War, Oskar, who is billeted to stay on the farm she lives on and tends. She, along with the other villagers, is essentially hostile to the German people who are seen to be invading their village but Oskar proves himself to be a good man with the best of intentions. When their love is discovered, there is immense hostility towards them both and Mona is seen praying to God for forgiveness, for her “crime” of falling for the enemy.
The end of the film does suffer from perhaps being a little preachy and overbearing, indeed, when it was shown in Britain it did nothing to help calm anti-German feeling – perhaps if it had been left as the author intended (as it surely would have been today) it would have had a greater and much more effective impact on the viewer. Sadly, although a print of this is still in existence there are no clips of it to view online.