Fortunes of War review – up-and-at-em spirit in tale of Brits on the run from the Wehrmacht

<span>A bungled mission … Fortunes of War</span><span>Photograph: Publicity image</span>
A bungled mission … Fortunes of WarPhotograph: Publicity image

Here’s yet another low-budget, straight-to-streaming British second world war flick: just as much of a men-on-a-mission throwback as last month’s War Blade, but a few notches more competent thanks to a more compact setup, occasional bursts of galvanic film-making from director Bill Thomas, and a grimier tone that is more Dirty Dozen than Saving Private Ryan.

It’s backs-to-the-wall time; Sergeant Mason (James Oliver Wheatley) and his not-especially-crack commando squad bungle a raid on a Nazi convoy and find themselves running across Normandy from an ever-growing pack of Wehrmacht. Retreating to a shabby farmhouse, they dig in for the imminent siege, despite the reluctance of Belgian owner Julien (Allan Relph), who doesn’t fancy being labelled as a partisan. Julien is also hiding a secret there, something that comes into play in negotiations with the presiding SS general Horseler (Bob Cryer, who has graduated from the Christoph Waltz school of suave goose-steppers).

It doesn’t take much effort – check out the title – to guess the prize on the table. The spoils of war gimmick is a limp attempt to gee up what is essentially a plotless and pointless endeavour, without even a geographical demarcation of where this supposed tactical unit were targeting or where they plan to pull out. Characterisation is equally barren (unless you count Mason being described as a “miserable twat”). It has a notably multicultural ensemble, including two female French resistance guerrillas – one in a beret, unfortunately reminiscent of ’Allo, ’Allo!

Wheatley at least thoroughly masticates this low-sustenance material, his pugnacious cockney officer fusing baroque Tom Hardy and David Bellamy in a one-note performance that is effective without rising into the realm of true charisma. And while you wouldn’t trust Thomas to plot an orienteering afternoon, his general heedlessness at least brings with it an up-and-at-’em zest that’s palpable in quick-pivoting camerawork. But the fact that, in these second world war dramas, there’s so often a crater where a story should be is perhaps a sign that British film-makers should start looking at other conflicts.

• Fortunes of War is available on digital platforms from 19 February.