“Dresden” is a German TV movie that sets a romance in the bombing of the German city of Dresden in 1945, It was directed by Roland Richter. The movie was inspired by the book “Fire” by Jorg Friedrich. It touches on the controversy of the bombing and tries to put a civilian face on a military decision.
Anna (Felicitas Woll) is a nurse working in a Dresden hospital. Her father is the head physician and she is engaged to a doctor named Alexander (Benjamin Sadler). Since Dresden has not been bombed and she is from an upper class family, Anna’s life has not been effected much by the war. This is about to change. Robert Newman (John Light) is a British Lancaster bomber pilot. When his bomber is hit, he parachutes and manages to make it to Anna’s hospital where he hides in the basement. How else are they going to meet and start a romance? Anna discovers him, nurses him back to health, and they fall in love. Complications ensue and this is before the massive bombardment begins. The movie throws in a Jewish subplot to add to the drama.
“Dresden” is an entertaining bit of ridiculousness. It is best if you turn your brain off when viewing it. The hoops the screenplay has to jump through to keep the love triangle viable are truly circuslike. And laughable. For instance, Robert shows up at Anna and Alexander’s engagement party wearing a German uniform. This is just the first domino in a line of increasingly ludicrous domino falls. It’s a small world in the fiery city of Dresden as the main characters keep bumping into each other. The cast keeps a straight face through all this, although the wooden performance by Sadler makes one wonder if he can emote. The rest of the cast is fine, especially Felicitas Woll. The effects are surprisingly decent. I was dreading the bombardment, but it is actually appropriately horrific. The sets are excellent and the dead bodies piled in them pack an emotional punch. I could put up with the credulity challenging love story better since it was dropped into the historical inferno that was Dresden.
As far as accuracy, the movie does not intend to be a documentary, but it does weigh in on the controversy about the bombing. Before the bombing raid, bomber crews are briefed that Dresden is of “the highest value to the German defenses”. It has a Gestapo headquarters, a munitions factory, poison gas facility, and is full of German troops headed to the Eastern Front. The RAF will show the Russians how it’s done. “Bomb the city until it burns”. This pretty much conforms to the official line of why the raids occurred. However, the bombing has been debated by historians ever since. Dresden was a virgin city that “Bomber Harris” and Winston Churchill decided to target in the period after the Battle of the Bulge and as the Soviet offensive neared Germany. There is evidence that Churchill wanted to aid the Soviet offensive and Harris saw Dresden as part of Bomber Command’s efforts to reduce German civilian morale. The city was bombed from February 13-15, 1945 by over 1,000 British and American bombers. Although the British have taken the brunt of the “terror bombing” accusations, the American bombers carried 40% incendiaries, which was a much higher rate than normal. The resulting fire storm was Hiroshimaesque. There is no way the movie could recreate the horror of what man can do to man. 1,600 acres were burned out and around 25,000 civilians were killed. (Some studies place the number of dead at much higher.) Although the movie is not intending to make a political statement about the “atrocity”, it is hard to watch the attractive cast go through it without thinking “Bomber” Harris is probably in Hell.
Whether you watch “Dresden” should depend on how guilty you will feel about laughing at the ridiculous plot developments in the midst of so much inhumanity and suffering. It is a standard romance set in a terrible historical event. You won’t learn anything about love, but you will learn something about the most famous non-atomic bombing of WWII.