Like the Battlefield 1 setting? We have a few other properties to take you to WWI
Electronic Arts and DICE’s Battlefield 1 setting recreates WWI, giving it a romantic flair. If you’re looking for more in the period, we have you covered.
Humans have a remarkable ability to change how they view the past in order to fit with their desires. Given enough time and distance, anything can be romanticized, even the most horrific war the Earth has ever known
Although more people died during the Second World War (many, many more), WWI was the ultimate horror. We can rationalize WWII as a necessary war, if there is such a thing, with clear good and bad sides. The Second World War was a nightmare, but the alternative of losing that war would have led us into a much darker future. The First World War, by comparison, was just blood and mud, with the resulting victory being nearly as costly as the war itself. There were very few heroes and villains, just millions dead.
Because of that (and many other reasons), there hasn’t been nearly the fascination with WWI as WWII. It hasn’t had the romantic look back that its successor has had, but maybe it has been long enough, or maybe we just love looking at a global war from a distance and WWII has been nearly exhausted. Either way, the First World War may be poised for a romantic resurgence.
Electronic Arts and DICE managed to walk the fine line between glamorizing the war and not taking it too lightly with Battlefield 1. It hinted at real moments in the conflict where tanks were new to warfare, planes were considered a novelty, and T.E. Lawrence led horseback troops against one of the most powerful empires the world has ever known – and won.
The First World War is primarily remembered for the trench warfare, but that was only one small portion of the global conflict. It was a watershed moment for humanity played out in multiple theaters. Technology shot forward significantly during the war. Empires crumbled into dust. Established class systems began to dissolve as bullets showed no preference for social status. There are millions of stories that can be told from World War I.
If the Battlefield 1 gave you an appetite for hearing some of them, we have a few suggestions on where to start. You won’t find nearly as many works – fiction or non-fiction – as you will WWII, but there are several across multiple mediums.
So if you’d like to know more about the Battlefield 1 setting of World War I, read on. We tried to keep it to critically acclaimed books, movies, podcasts, and TV shows all directly set within WWI, but there are plenty more – both directly focusing on the war and indirectly. It’s easy to recommend a show like Downton Abbey that has episodes set during WWI, but since it’s not about the war we left it off.
If you have any suggestions we missed, let us know in the comments below!
A Soldier in the Great War by Mark Helprin
Written in 2005, this novel begins in 1964 when a WWI veteran decides to travel with a young boy, recounting his experiences as a soldier in the Italian army as they go. The story begins in the days before the war, with a privileged Roman boy heading off to war. His experiences, unsurprisingly, change him fundamentally.
While the book doesn’t shy from the horror of the Great War, it also interjects love, hope, and redemption. It personalizes the war, and is a must-read for fans of historical fiction that are interested in WWI.
All’s Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
One of the classic novels to come out of WWI, All’s Quiet on the Western Front blurs the line between fact and fiction. Written by Remarque – a soldier in the German army during the war – the story follows a group of friends that head to the western front filled with idealism and heroic ideals.
It is an anti-war book that ultimately speaks to the futility of war, and is required reading for many students. There have also been a handful of film adaptions. If you are interested in a complete look at WWI, you need to read about the war from all sides.
Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
If you went to high school in America, there’s a good chance that you read this for your English class. If not – or if you did so grudgingly and quickly forgot all about it – you should consider reading it again.
Hemingway’s third novel is a fictional retelling of his time spent in on the Italian front as an ambulance driver. Like in the novel, Hemingway fell in love with a nurse who helped him recover from serious wounds – although the similarities end there. The book is fiction, but only loosely. It’s well worth the read both as a study of the war and a novel from one of the most acclaimed American writers of the 20th century.
The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman and Robert K. Massie
Considered one of the best nonfiction books ever written and the winner of a Pulitzer Prize, The Guns of August focuses on the first year of the war. From the events that preceded the conflict to the first battles of the war, historians Barbara W. Tuchman and Robert K. Massie highlight what they consider the end of the 19th century – or at least its influence – and the start of the modern world.
If you are looking for the real history of the Great War, you can’t go wrong with this book. It’s also well written, which helps to build the tension in the months leading up to the outbreak of hostilities.
Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence
Although T.E. Lawrence was considered one of the most famous soldiers in the First World War, he is probably better known by his other name – Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence fought with the Bedouins against the might of the Ottoman Empire, one of history’s most powerful and long-lasting dynasties.
Lawrence was instrumental in bringing down an empire that was founded in 1299 AD, and he kept meticulous records throughout. He collected his writing into a work that is mostly autobiographical (with just a dash of fiction), and became a national hero in England as a result. An abridged version of his story was also released as the book Revolt in the Desert and his book was later adapted as the film Lawrence of Arabia. If you want the full story, however, read this book.
A Very Long Engagement
Although this entry could have landed in either the movies or the book section, the 2004 film is considered a modern French classic and went on to earn several awards nominations and wins.
The story follows a young woman who is told her fiancé died after being accused of self-mutilation to escape the front. The woman learns of the brutal punishment handed down to soldiers in similar circumstances, which gives an interesting look at the war from another angle.
Following the success of Mad Max and The Road Warrior, Mel Gibson teamed up with director Peter Weir to tell the story of the Gallipoli Campaign, as told from point of view of the Australian forces that fought – and lost to – the Ottoman Empire. Although not entirely historically accurate, it shows the cost of the war as the idealistic Australian troops come to realize the truth about the war.
If the subject matter appeals to you but the fictional nature doesn’t, or if you want more, there’s also a 2005 Turkish documentary that chronicles the conflict from both sides.
Lawrence of Arabia
The 1963 Best Picture winner, Lawrence of Arabia, remains the most well-known film covering the Middle East theater in the Great War. The cast, led by Peter O’Toole, is a list of some of the best acting talent from the time, and the cinematography in the movie remains one of the best looking even now.
Although it is heavily romanticized and features more than a few historical inaccuracies, Lawrence of Arabia offers a look at the lesser known side of the war that led to the downfall of the Ottoman Empire after more than 600 years in existence. It’s a must see for anyone looking for WWI fiction.
Legends of the Fall
Of all the films on the list, you can make the argument that this one isn’t really a WWI film, but it has a few things in its favor. To begin with, the majority of the film takes place shortly after the war. In that, it does give a glimpse at the war’s consequences. The opening of the film, however, does give a glimpse at the war as seen through the eyes of an American soldier (in this case, Brad Pitt).
If you are looking for a pure war story, this film probably isn’t for you. If you want a glimpse at the American side of the conflict, including life after the war, this film should be added to your list.
Paths of Glory
One of Stanley Kubrick’s earliest movies, Paths of Glory is a staunch anti-war film that was created in a time when pro-war films were box-office giants. Starring Kirk Douglas, the film is a condemnation of war in general, specifically the futility and horror of trench warfare.
When an attack fails, as it was doomed from the start, petty and self-serving commanding officers demand that several scapegoats pay the price. A Colonel offers to defend the men, but the trial proves to be a further look at the inevitable stupidity of it all. If you’re looking for a romantic take on the war, look elsewhere.
No list based on war films would be complete without the inclusion of a Steven Spielberg film. Based on the novel of the same name (which was also a play), War Horse is arguably more about life during the First World War than the war itself, although both aspects are represented.
As with many of Spielberg’s films, War Horse is about the characters. The war is omnipresent, but also more in the background than a major feature. It is the event that fuels the other events – it’s the macro while the movie focuses on the micro. If you want to see another aspect of the war, one that is more about life during the war than the war itself, this is the film for you.
If you want to hear about the true history of the Great War, there are several options on the podcast front, starting with the BBC. With dozens of bite-sized clips ranging in length, the BBC podcasts cover the war from multiple angles. Some episodes offer a look at the various battles of the war, while others focus the social consequences of the conflict. It’s comprehensive and sprawling.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
Although he often charges for his meticulously detailed historical podcasts, amateur historian and radio personality Dan Carlin’s podcasts focusing on the Great War are currently free. His six-part series titled “Blueprint for Armageddon” is currently available to download at no cost, and each episode is several hours long (they vary in length). Carlin tells a story in each podcast, focusing on a few specific incidents that bring the war to life. It comes off as one of the most interesting pieces of historical storytelling available.
The website History Extra has a list of what it considers the ten best podcasts focusing on the First World War. They range in focus from obscure topics like shopping in Rome during the war to the royal families that found themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. It’s fairly widespread, but worth a look.
Black Adder Goes Fourth
This is, unsurprisingly, the only comedy on this list. But if you do start to go deep into the First World War and you haven’t had your fill yet, the fourth (standalone) season of the British comedy Blackadder is a decent pallet cleanser – albeit not an entirely lighthearted one.
Rowan Atkinson stars as an officer in the British army, stuck in a trench somewhere in France. Captain Blackadder battles both the enemy and his own woefully inept superiors while constantly scheming how to avoid the order to attack. There’s truth in comedy, and that is very present here.
Originally a four-part book series, in 2012 the BBC and HBO commissioned a five-part adaptation starring Benedict Cumberbatch as a wealthy gentleman in a loveless marriage who is called to war. Over the course of the war, his wife remains generally horrible, pushing the ethical and stoic officer to another woman while he proves himself in battle.
The series is more about the British during the war than about the war itself. It gives a look at the conflict from multiple angles though, from the actual fighting to the administration of the armies. If you enjoy the British “stiff upper lip” ideal, add Parade’s End to your list.
The Great War (web series)
This non-fiction series consists of hundreds of short clips that run anywhere from one minute to 20 based on the wildly varied subject matter. It’s all related to WWI, but it covers topics ranging from the battles to the weapons used to the specific countries around the world not directly in conflict and more.
There’s no particular order to the videos, so it’s somewhat a choose-your-own narrative. That’s great for people on the go that just want to watch a little bit here and there.
Young Indiana Jones
This one is a little bit of a stretch, but there are several episodes of Young Indiana Jones that are set during the war. The series initially jumped between a young Indy (played by Sean Patrick Flanery) and a very young, 10-year old Indy, but the Flanery episodes won out and an underage Indy joined the war under a fake name.
There was a very specific formula to each episode. Indy would have a goal or mission, he’d amazingly meet someone famous along the way, and he’d learn a valuable lesson. There were some battles, but the show was very much PG. It’s not really a war show and it gets a little annoying when the show shoehorns in historical figures, plus Flanery’s Indy is a little “aww-shucks” for the character, but if you want a slightly innocent take on the Great War, look no further.