Overlord (1975): Stuart Cooper’s Meditative Film about D-Day

Written and directed by Stuart Cooper, Overlord is set around the D-Day invasion (“Operation Overlord”), centering on the meditations of one young soldier on being part of the war machinery, and his premonitions of his own death.

The film world-premiered at the 1975 Berlin Film Festival, where it won a Special Jury Prize.

Beginning with premonition of death, the film follows a young everyman, named Tom, through his call up to the East Yorkshire Regiment, his training, his meeting a young girl, his journey to France, and his death on D-Day at Sword.

Director Cooper also includes footage of the London Blitz and bombing of Europe to emphasize the events leading up to the invasion.

Visually, the film, shot in black-and-white by maestro John Alcott, is stunning.  For long stretches of time, the movie relies on its powerful imagery–with no dialogue or voice-over narration.  Occasionally, Tom reads aloud letters that he writes to his family and girlfriend.

The combination of archival footage and fictional elements is most effective in conveying the subjective experiences of one ordinary (everyman) soldier.

Cooper had initially planned to make a documentary, but during the research conducted at the Imperial War Museum, he decided to make a feature about a young man’s odyssey from call-up to coffin.

About half of Overlord is contemporary footage shot for the film, and the other half is archival footage from British training missions and the invasion itself.

The Imperial War Museum allowed Cooper access to extensive footage, including original nitrate negatives. Additionally, he was granted access to diaries of soldiers written around the time of the landing, which he incorporated into the scenario, co-authored by him and Christopher Hudson.

Paul Glass’ score, which accompanies the wordless sequences, becomes more significant in the last scene, in which Tom’s dead body is carried by his mates.

Though most of the themes are familiar from other war movies, it is the sensitive handling of them, the subtle style, and the superb acting of lead actor Brian Stirner that elevate the film into the level of art and distinction.

Upon completion, the film failed to get US theatrical distribution and was only shown in select screenings and on TV, including a run on California’s landmark Z Channel.

In 2006, Overlord received its first legit US release through Janus Films, and in 2008 a remastered edition was rereleased in theaters.  As a result of this late exposure, the stature of Overlord continues to grow with new generations of viewers discovering the film (which is also available on DVD).

Running time: 84 Minutes.

Cast

Brian Stirner as Tom
Davyd Harries as Jack
Nicholas Ball as Arthur
Julie Neesam as the Girl
John Franklyn-Robbins as Dad
Stella Tanner as Mum