How Accurate Is: Valkyrie (Film, 2008, Bryan Singer)

Valkyrie

Hello everyone! Today’s post will be on the film Valkyrie. Released in 2008, directed by Bryan Singer, and starring Tom Cruise, Valkyrie chronicles the 1944 assassination attempt against Hitler, in which a significant number of upper-ranking German military officers participated. The plot was equal parts desperation due to Germany’s looming defeat in the war and genuine disgust with Nazi methods; the conspirators were an odd combination of fervent anti-Nazis (such as Stauffenberg, Beck, and others) and former Nazis who had decided that Hitler’s time had come (including von Neurath, the former foreign minister and governor of Bohemia). Tom Cruise played the leader of the plot, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg; his primary co-conspirators in the film included Major-General Henning von Tresckow, General Friedrich Olbricht, and (former) General Ludwig Beck.

All historicity aside, I found this film to be quite good. The actors were generally strong, though Cruise made an unconvincing German at best and it was fairly obvious that Kenneth Brannaugh (playing General Tresckow) was British. Christian Berkel, playing Colonel Mertz von Quirheim, also looked so much like Tom Hanks that I had myself convinced he was, only to be disabused of this notion after the film. The plot was also engaging to the point where I must admit that I hoped for history to be discarded and an Inglorious Basterds-style ending to ensue. Sadly, however, it was not to be; for those who are unaware, the assassination attempt was doomed to failure and the majority of the conspirators were executed or imprisoned as a result. My dashed hopes aside, the film did follow history and, it turns out, did a surprisingly good job of it.

Claus von Stauffenberg
Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg

The area in which the film was most accurate was the unfolding of the assassination attempt itself, on July 20 1944; the events in Berlin were almost an exact play-by-play of the events in real life. The principal deviation was an exaggeration in the chance of the coup succeeding, likely for dramatic effect; the SS headquarters in Berlin, for instance, were never seized despite this occurring in the film.[1] The broad stroke of events, however, followed history closely. The initial bombing truly did come within a hairs breadth of succeeding, for example; the three hours’ delay due to a miscommunication also occurred historically, and almost certainly ensured the plan’s failure.[2]The scene where Goebbels stopped the coup in its tracks by getting Hitler himself on the phone was also historical.[3] The bitter end of the coup, also, was true to history, including the suicide of Beck (though historically he failed twice and had to be assisted by a soldier- not that this would have made pleasant viewing) and the subsequent execution or suicide of most of the key plotters, including von Stauffenberg.[4]

Ludwig Beck
Ludwig Beck

Where the film made most of its omissions was in the period before the assassination attempt began; for instance, von Stauffenberg was already initiated into the plot when he was wounded in North Africa, rather than being suddenly initiated afterwards. The reason for this change was most likely so that his complete inaction for the several years he was involved did not have to be explained; in the film he was depicted to be a man of action, not content to let the politicians waste precious time. The main omission in the film, however, was the absence of many key (and lesser) individuals involved in the plot; Erwin Rommel, a prominent Field Marshal who had earned the nickname “The Desert Fox” in North Africa, for instance, did not appear in the film.[5] Historically he was heavily involved in the plot and it had been planned that he would be given a prominent role in the new government after it (hopefully) succeeded; tragically, however, he was critically wounded during the summer of 1944 and could not participate.[6] (Not that this saved him; he was forced to commit suicide via poison by Hitler, who did not want his favourite war hero dragged on trial in front of the German people.[7]) The western generals in France, including Field Marshal von Kluge, also by and large supported the coup; their involvement in the film was restricted to a single mention of events in Paris.[8]

Indeed, the conspiracy was wide-ranging and included a vast number of upper-ranking German generals, former politicians, and activists; 4980 people were executed following its failure, a demonstration of how large it truly was.[9] Some of the few individuals involved to survive, somewhat ironically, were Von Stauffenberg’s family; his children were scheduled to be taken to Buchenwald but were rescued at the last moment by American forces.[10] It is understandable why many of the individuals involved were left out; it was a large conspiracy and it was, frankly, difficult enough to keep track of the various army officers in the film as it was (a situation not helped by the fact that they were rarely referred to by name).

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel

So, in the end, this film takes its place as one of the more historical films I have written about on this website; I was not sure what to expect going in, but I was pleasantly surprised. The characters were generally likeable, the plot was certainly easy to become invested in, and the writers clearly did their research. I would recommend this film to anyone with an interest in the Second World War. Stauffenberg may have failed in his attempted coup, but he succeeded in one aim at least; thanks to him, and the many others like him, no one today thinks that all Germans supported Hitler. In any cloud there are points of light; Stauffenberg, Beck, Von Moltke, and the other German dissidents were such points.

References:

1 Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Rosetta Books, 2011. Kindle Edition. Book 5, chapter 29.

2 Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Rosetta Books, 2011. Kindle Edition. Book 5, chapter 29.

3 Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Rosetta Books, 2011. Kindle Edition. Book 5, chapter 29.

4 Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Rosetta Books, 2011. Kindle Edition. Book 5, chapter 29.

5 Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Rosetta Books, 2011. Kindle Edition. Book 5, chapter 29.

6 Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Rosetta Books, 2011. Kindle Edition. Book 5, chapter 29.

7 Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Rosetta Books, 2011. Kindle Edition. Book 5, chapter 29.

8 Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Rosetta Books, 2011. Kindle Edition. Book 5, chapter 29.

9 Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Rosetta Books, 2011. Kindle Edition. Book 5, chapter 29.

10 Express. “The day my dad tried to kill Hitler.” October 1, 2014.

http://www.express.co.uk/news/history/58191/The-day-my-dad-tried-to-kill-Hitler

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