By Dave Campbell | May 27, 2011
Director: Martin Koolhoven
Writers: Mieke de Jong, Martin Koolhoven, Paul Jan Nelissen (screenplay), Jan Terlouw (novel)
Starring: Martijn Lakemeier, Yorick van Wageningen, Jamie Campbell Bower
Winter in Wartime opens to a snowy scene in Nazi occupied Holland during World War II in 1945. A British fighter plane crashes several hundred yards away from Michiel van Beusekom’s second story bedroom window. Moments later the English pilot is spotted by a German scout as he patrols the nearby forest, but the pilot quickly shots the German in the head while dangling from his deployed parachute in the trees above.
Michiel and his family are in support of the resistance, but because Michiel’s father Vader van Beusekom is the village Mayor, he must stay neutral to the bidding of the Germans in attempt to keep the towns people safe. In contrast to his father, Michiel adores his rebellious Uncle Ben who is active in the local resistance and shames Vader’s weakness to the Germans. Because of his fathers position, Michiel feels more and more at odds with their relationship as Michiel becomes further involved in underground activity in aid of the resistance.
Michiel soon discovers that the English pilot named Jack is injured and hulled up inside a secret underground cabin in the woods. With the help of Michiel’s sister Erica (who’s a nurse), they attend Jack back to health and put him in contact with the resistance. But Michiel’s trust in those around him is tested as traitor emerges that jeopardizes their safety.
Winter in Wartime is shot with a slightly washed out blue-gray palate that produces a weathered essence to the season and time period. It lends a strong consistency to the mood that is felt by the characters in the film. The performances are all very strong especially from Jamie Campbell Bower (of Twilight and Sweeney Todd fame), and Martijn Lakemeier who plays Michiel and looks like a perfect hybrid of Sean Astin and Anthony Michael Hall.
Other than a couple of poor edit points early in the film that jumped the story forward a bit too abruptly, the technical craftsmanship of Winter in Wartime has a very old school feel. The biggest slant against Winter in Wartime is that the tells (clues) are given away all too generously early in the film enabling the viewer to predict the climactic outcome. The third act writing also becomes sloppy as things become very convenient for our lead characters. For example: how in the hell can a single horse-drawn carriage outrun German motorcycles and jeeps? How are none of the Germans bullets hitting anything? How can the Germans who were 40 yards behind them in said carriage chase suddenly disappear when they take a short visible turn into the forest and fire a pistol? I’m just very puzzled by the logic in the later part of the film.
Director Martin Koolhoven’s adaptation of the 1970’s novel proves that he has what it takes to create a well made film, but it’s the details of the writing that he’ll need to address in future works if he wants to make a name for himself. All negatives aside, Winter in Wartime is a compelling story that really isn’t about war, but an intimate coming of age tale about friendship and trust that are surrounded in the Nazi occupation during WWII.