The Great War series
The Great War: Darkening Skies
1914 – Britain, as the Great War begins the Armstrongs are drawn into the conflict. Thomas (Christian Bale) is the Naval Lieutenant, already a skilled professional at 27, Gunnery officer of the battlecruiser HMS Inflexible. Phillip (Colin Farrell) is the tough as nails hell-raiser who enlists in the Army as a Lieutenant of infantry. George (Hayden Christensen), just out of University, is the bon vivant who joins the Royal Flying Corps. Anne (Claire Danes) is the nurse pledged to ease the suffering of the war’s victims. And Richard (Jeremy Irons) is the one-eyed former Brigadier re-called to a position with the General Staff.
As autumn turns to winter and winter to spring it becomes apparent to all that this war will be unlike any other in both scope and carnage. While Thomas chases the elusive Graf von Spee and Germany’s crack East Asia Cruiser Squadron across half the world, his father, Richard, settles into his post in London. But Richard’s strategies are of a different age and ill suited to this new kind of warfare. In Hampshire, Anne sees the bloody harvest of battle as hundreds wounded in the desperate battles against the Huns in France are given over to her care.
As the Allied Powers fall back before the German advance it is the heroism of Phillip and his men that helps stem the tide of German grays rushing headlong toward them, while in his Yank built Curtiss NC-4 flying boat George hunts the elusive U-boats in the Irish Sea that threaten to starve England into submission. Finally catching and destroying the German Squadron after months at sea Thomas expects a return to home waters but HMS Inflexible is diverted to provide supporting fire for the campaign at Gallipoli, where Phillip is fighting for his life against determined Turkish infantry, whose German machine guns turn the beaches, hills and cliffs of Turkey into bloody killing fields that consume men by the thousands.
The five Armstrongs are held together by the bonds of family and a tradition of service that goes back over a thousand years. But will even that sustain them through the firestorm that rages across the globe?
The Great War: The Storm Breaks
1916 – Europe, as the war continues the Armstrongs find themselves once more thrust into the forefront of the conflict. After the carnage that was the Gallipoli campaign Commander Thomas Armstrong (Christian Bale) and Captain Phillip Armstrong (Colin Farrell) are hoping for some rest in England only to be thrown into two of the biggest battles of the war.
Thomas is now Inflexible’s first officer as she joins the Grand Fleet in the sortie that may well decide the war at sea – the Battle of Jutland. In France Phillip’s company is deployed to the front lines once more for the Somme, a campaign that will forever scar the English psyche.
Lieutenant George Armstrong (Hayden Christensen) is assigned to a fighter squadron but finds the novelty of aerial combat wears off quickly under German fire as he battles the “Fokker Scourge” in a do-or-die campaign in the skies over France, and romance finds Anne (Claire Danes) in the form of a young Belgian officer (Adrien Brody) wounded in the fighting in Flanders.
Meanwhile in London Major General Richard Armstrong (Jeremy Irons), one of the major planners of the Somme campaign, is faced with a decision that is almost certain to send one of his sons to his grave. But at first Phillip Armstrong seems invulnerable, standing unscathed as all about him German machine guns and artillery turn the ground red with English blood.
Finally after weeks of brutal carnage the advance grinds to a halt and Phillip’s charmed life comes to a bloody end, sending shockwaves through the Armstrongs that threaten to tear them apart.
The Great War: Final Thunder
1918 – Europe, as the war reaches its climax the Armstrongs, still bleeding after the loss of Phillip, must soldier on for the freedom of England. For it is now, at the end, that those in the strongest positions will be able to decide the terms of the peace.
Determined to share the danger alongside the men he commands Richard Armstrong (Jeremy Irons), now a Lieutenant General, leads his divisions in a last ditch attempt to capture a key piece of ground in the Ardennes. In England Anne (Claire Danes) and Major Rene Peugot (Adrien Brody) are wed but as the last push begins their happiness may be short-lived. When Rene’s battalion is attached to her father’s command Anne cannot help but to recall Phillip’s death a year earlier.
In the air Captain George Armstrong’s (Hayden Christensen) daring has made him a legend but as the best of the Kaiser’s Air Corps battles to stem the Allied assault he learns that even legends can die when he is shot down, barely surviving a crash behind the Hun lines and is thrown into a POW camp.
At sea Captain Sir Thomas Armstrong’s (Christian Bale) cruiser may be all that stands between glorious victory and ignominious defeat as the German High Seas Fleet makes one final sortie and only HMS Defiant is in a position to spread the alarm. But first she must fight her way free of a squadron of fast destroyers that dog her heels. Turning on them, Thomas attacks, gambling that Defiant’s armor will protect her from the lighter caliber guns of the destroyers while his powerful batteries of 8-inchers sends them to the bottom. The gamble works and Defiant reaches England with mostly superficial damage, alerting the fleet in time to sortie and meet the Germans.
Meanwhile in the Ardennes, when Richard’s offensive bogs down in the dense woods he strips his divisions of their armor, which he forms into fast cavalry-like troops and sends around the flanks of the German resistance, freeing George from his prison camp in the process. But even as his strategy is proving it’s worth, his armor is dangerously over-extended and when the German’s mount a counter-attack Richard and his headquarters unit are cut off and surrounded. Richard orders George to fly a wounded Rene out in a captured Fokker D.VII while he and his armored units try to break through the German cordon and re-join his infantry divisions.
Leading from his un-armored touring car, Richard’s tanks thrust into the German lines forcing a breach. But when a battery of artillery opens up on the tanks with armor-piercing shells he realizes that the slow-moving Mk. V’s will never make it. In a suicide charge he sends his car hurtling across open ground to smash into the center of the Hun artillery, silencing the guns and allowing the armor to complete it’s breakthrough.
In the air George flies directly to Anne’s hospital but even as it comes within sight he is set upon by four German fighters. From the ground Anne sees the plane bearing her husband and youngest brother climb back into the clouds hotly pursued by three fighters while the fourth circles ominously below. She cries out in anguish as she realizes that she is about to watch two of the people she loves be killed before her eyes.
But though machine gun fire rips through the fabric of his plane, George Armstrong focuses as he has never done so before. He and the Fokker become welded into a single machine that climbs, dives and slashes through the clouds. Below Anne counts one, two, three DR. I’s as they fall, broken, through the clouds. But as George tries once more to land, the remaining triplane jumps onto his tail, firing burst after burst from his guns. As Rene is hit, George puts the plane into a steep dive with the German following close behind. At the last second he pulls up, but the pursuing DR. I’s weak 110 hp engine is unable to pull out of the dive and it slams into the French soil as the plane explodes in a ball of fire.
A month later, after laying flowers on Richard and Phillip’s graves, Thomas, George and Anne visit Rene at a convalescent hospital outside Paris. Suddenly, one after the other, the church bells begin to ring all around them. When Rene asks what has happened they tell him that the Armistice has been signed, the Great War is finally over.