DVD Review: The Wipers Times (UK, 2013)


“Do you suffer from optimism?”  The Wipers Times asks in its distinctly and irreverently British portrayal of the First World War and ‘The Wipers Times’, a satirical newspaper created in the trenches.  Contrasting the humour of the paper with the ugly reality of fighting in Ypres and the Somme, this unique BBC film captures the coping mechanisms of the soldiers on the frontlines.

The narrative centres on Captain Fred Roberts (Ben Chaplin), who in the first scene is attempting to get a job post-war on a newspaper, brandishing a copy of the Wipers Times as proof of his experience. Roberts and his Lieutenant, Jack Pearson (Julian Rhind-Tutt), created the paper when based in Ypres; the name ‘Wipers’ was English slang for the name of the Belgian town.

Though it is difficult to translate the humour and satire of the paper to the screen, the film does this well by turning the articles into skits, played celeverly by Chaplin in vaguely creep peeling white face paint. There are some darkly funny moments, which show the soldiers perspective conflicting with the official line that celebrates the glory of a war and claims that it will be over by Christmas. “Which Christmas?” is their response. That’s the true victory of this production, it shows trench life from the soldiers’ point of view, highlighting the importance of the friendships made in these awful circumstances. A particularly poignant moment, illustrates how necessary friendship and humour  were to the soldiers, when Roberts inspires his men to get out of the trenches into no-mans land in the Somme with the retelling of a dirty joke.

Michael Palin has a role as a sympathetic General, who refuses attempts of the staff to shut the paper down for insubordination. “The war is not funny, Sir, “ the staffer complains, “I’ve a feeling that may be the point” the General replies.

The Wipers Times manages to celebrate the resilience of the soldiers, while still portraying the gritty futility of the war effort. By returning to the words of the men on the frontline and spreading the little known story of the paper, the film delivers a unique perspective on the First World War.


The Wipers Times is out on DVD now.



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