Even after a century, it is surprising how many great stories can be mined from World War I. It is now truly in the past, as there are (most likely at least) very few, if any, people that fought during the Great War that are still alive. Compared to World War II–the first “modern” war, which coincided very cinematically with the Hollywood era–WWI seems barely scratched. So it is delightful that such a quirky plot as The Wipers Times survived to be retold.
The Belgian locals may have pronounced their town Ypres in a way that made foreigners scratch their heads at the curious “EEP!” sound. But the British soldiers who found themselves slogging back and forth across the Belgian countryside during the Great War looked at the name on a map, and said, “Wipers?” So it is only natural when a handful of officers stumbled upon an abandoned, but undamaged old printing press in a bombed out building, they see the opportunity to have some fun. Why not print their own DIY paper, with anonymous soldiers’-view political commentary, stories, jokes, and poetry to give the restless and bored trench-bound soldiers? Why not call it The Wipers Times? Perfect.
Ben Chaplin and Julian Rhind-Tutt play the two officers that are the brainchilds (brainchildren?) behind the paper, which was helped along by the fact that one of their men just happened to know how to operate the beautiful printing press that they grew to love and protect. There’s a moment where the press gets damaged in a bombing raid (such a thing was bound to happen), and you feel the spirit and joviality seep from the men. After all, this paper was perhaps the only thing they had that keep them from being fully entrenched in their horrible day-to-day existence. The paper The Wipers Times, like other classic morale boosters for the military, ended up playing an important part for both the creators and the readers, simply by providing some humor in the dire reality of war.
The Wipers Times, like its namesake, keeps the tone surprisingly light, considering it is a film about World War I. This is a movie not about carnage, but about making the best of things in the worst circumstances. When you start to feel like the film portrays a war without consequence (at least for the main characters), The Wipers Times will offer a jolt of somberness, from a soldier’s surprisingly lovely poem to his lost friend, to the post-war reality of looking back on such an event, and finding it to be one of the best times of your life. Like a short story on one of its own pages, The Wipers Times manages to find a fresh and funny take on the harsh realities of war.