“Allied”: Thanks for asking

Hollywood Gets It Wrong, Again… But Thanks

I went to see “Allied” the other night with my French Canadian girlfriend.   This movie is set in wartime Casablanca and England. And for those of you who might ask, “which war?” I can only respond, “the big one.” Brad Pitt plays an intelligence officer who must decide whether or not to trust the agent with whom he has been sent to perform an assassination. Later, they are married and have a child (for which plotline the setting moves to England).

The most amazing thing about this movie for me was the unapologetic presentation of Brad Pitt’s character as a French Canadian. This is probably the first time since 1940 that a Hollywood film with a real budget presented an authentic Hollywood star playing a Canadian as the central character of an action drama, and certainly the first time that the character was specifically French Canadian.

It is a sometimes risible effort. No one familiar with franco-Canadian culture could possibly believe that Brad Pitt’s character is French Canadian, any more than we believe that Sydney Greenstreet’s character in Casablanca is a North African. Brad’s well-meaning attempts to speak “Canadian” French cause ripples of laughter in the Canadian audience, no less than the misapprehension of Canadian geography, which has Pitt’s character seemingly going from Ontario to Southern Alberta for occasional calming weekends. (This would have been a very hard 4-day train journey each way in wartime Canada. I know: during the war, my father managed to get back to Alberta exactly once as a serving Royal Canadian Navy sailor.)

Notwithstanding the above, I am grateful to this film for helping to redress decades of historical falsehood. Canada’s WW 2 sacrifice somehow escapes notice from Americans no less than from the English, our two staunchest allies in the Second World War. By proportion, Canada sacrificed more casualties than the U.S.A. in the fight against Hitler. And yet my countrymen disappear in the record as presented by American film fiction and British history alike. British histories persist to this day in saying that there were three “British” beachheads on D-Day. This is false. There were two British beachheads, one Canadian, and two American. In other words, Canada, with its tiny population (and with no vested interests in the outcome of the war) was tasked with one-fifth of the Western Allied war effort on June 6, 1944.

So thanks, Mr. Pitt, for your characterization. If the accent is a little off, I must say our Air Force Blue looks great on you, and you do your Northern neighbours proud.

As for the movie itself, I highly recommend that people go see it. Ma blond et moi, nous avons trouvé l’histoire captivante, and we were literally gripping each others’ hands as the story of the star-crossed lovers, a couple caught up in the world drama of the war, came to its thrilling conclusion. In other words, the film delivered the kind of emotionally engaged, hope-for-the-good-guys thrill ride that we used to expect of movies about the war.

There is a kind of nostalgia about all narratives about the Second World War. Although it was undoubtedly not “The Good War” (anyone who ascribes the adjective “good” to an event which killed 60 million people is clearly not in touch with reality), it certainly was a story with unmistakable villains. And that, for once, a Canadian was The Good Guy in a Hollywood movie about the event was a gratifying pleasure.

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