World War II has been depicted on screen in many ways. Often the most affecting images are ones which appear in documentaries such as Night and Fog and Night Will Fall. However, they don’t always have the lasting emotional impact of narrative features like Come and See, The Thin Red Line or Saving Private Ryan. Writer and director Stuart Cooper decided to combine the two, melding archive footage with the story of a soldier preparing for the D-Day landings.

Tom (Brian Stirner) is just a normal man who is called-up to the East Yorkshire Regiment. Interspersed with footage from the Blitz and the Front, we follow this normal everyman as he advances through basic training, meets a girl (Julie Neesam), travels to France and eventually meets his end on the beaches of Normandy. Whilst initially proud to be doing his duty, he’s gradually integrated into the war machinery, becoming a mere cog in a bewildering behemoth.

The mixture of fact and fiction is where Overlord both thrives and stutters. At times it ingenuously pulls you into the the story, highlighting the anxiety and dangers faced by young conscripted soldiers. Occasionally though, the footage is at odds with the story and makes it feel a touch unreal. It does, however, do a great job of painting the isolation and ambiguity of being an almost insignificant part in a huge machine. Overlord is an almost dreamlike meditation on war.

Edition Contents:

  • Restored high-definition digital transfer, supervised by director Stuart Cooper, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary featuring Cooper and actor Brian Stirner
  • Mining the Archive, a 2007 piece featuring archivists from London’s Imperial War Museum detailing the footage used in the film
  • Capa Influences Cooper, a 2007 photo essay featuring Cooper on photographer Robert Capa
  • Cameramen at War, the British Ministry of Information’s 1943 film tribute to newsreel and service film unit cameramen
  • A Test of Violence, Cooper’s 1969 short film about the Spanish artist Juan Genovés
  • Germany Calling, a 1941 Ministry of Information propaganda film, clips of which appear in Overlord
  • Excerpts from the journals of two D-day soldiers, read by Stirner
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Kent Jones, a short history of the Imperial War Museum, and excerpts from the Overlord novelization by Cooper and coscreenwriter Christopher Hudson

Overlord is released on DVD and Blu-ray as part of the Criterion Collection by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on Monday.