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Claims the film ignores one of the British heroes....(spoilers)

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Claims the film ignores one of the British heroes....(spoilers)

Post by silly girl on Sun Jan 19 2014, 00:34

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George Clooney's Nazi art theft film attacked for ignoring real-life British war hero
Relatives of Ronald Balfour are angry that The Monuments Men overlooks the British historian, one of only two members of the unit killed in the second world war

Nearly 70 years after his death on the battle front protecting works of art, the extraordinary and largely untold story of Ronald Balfour – a shy but extremely brave Cambridge academic who is honoured in Germany but forgotten in his own country – is beginning to emerge.

But with a major George Clooney film based on the work of a specialist unit devoted to saving art and heritage out next month, the few remaining people who have close links to one of Britain's least likely heroes fear that the true story of an unjustly overlooked champion of cultural history has been edited out in order to make good adventure cinema.

Ronald Edmund Balfour, a short-sighted, rake-thin medieval historian and fellow of King's College, Cambridge, was in his forties when he volunteered for a new unit comprising civilian art, museums and heritage experts set up to work alongside Allied forces after D-day. It was charged with saving paintings, statues, ancient buildings, historic documents and libraries from theft or destruction by the Nazis.

The unit, the monuments, fine arts and archives (MFAA) section of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, was dubbed "the Venus fixers" by battle-hardened troops bemused at being urged to respect cultural treasures.

The film The Monuments Men, directed and partly written by George Clooney, focuses on the adventures of a group of MFAA officers from after D-day until the end of the war. The film stars Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Cate Blanchett, is based on a book by US writer Robert Edsel and is due for UK release next month.

In it Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville, The Monuments Men's only British lead character, plays a fictional English academic called Donald Jeffries, part of the MFAA frontline team led by Clooney's character, George L Stout – a real MFAA officer and eminent American art conservator.

Ronald Balfour's life was complex and intriguing. His acquaintances probably included art historian Anthony Blunt, who spied for the Soviet Union, and other academics linked to the Cambridge Apostles group, EM Forster and perhaps Churchill's close friend and adviser, Brendan Bracken. But he has little to offer mainstream war film-makers. Unmarried and possibly gay, Eton-educated Balfour was devoted to academic study and tipped to be a future provost of King's. He amassed a library of more than 8,000 books, which he left to the college.

Though American-led, the MFAA was an international effort, with about 345 men and women from up to 17 nations. Britain provided the second-largest group of specialists. Volunteers for MFAA work in the war zone were given basic military training, a uniform and an officer rank – and a sector of Europe to look after.

The final months of the war in Europe brought its greatest loss of life – a mud-and-fire maelstrom in which armed gangs roamed at will.

Amid this chaos around a dozen frontline MFAA officers struggled to preserve Europe's cultural wealth. Balfour, who was given the rank of major and attached to the Canadian army, was entrusted with the sector that included northern France, Belgium and north-west Germany – hundreds of key sites, and thousands of works of art and historic architecture.

Often, Balfour had to hitchhike from one war-ravaged historic site to another, inspecting losses and damage. But his passion for art and heritage ended up by costing him his life. Early in 1945, Balfour was at Cleves, the bitterly contested ancient city in north-western Germany.


He had just saved an archive dating back to the 14th century, and persuaded Canadian troops not to dynamite the medieval Steintor city gate at nearby Goch.On 10 March Balfour ventured beyond allied lines with two German civilians to try to protect historic church artefacts and was killed by a shell burst while moving parts of a medieval altarpiece to safety. He was 41, one of two MFAA officers killed during the war. Walter Huchthausen, an American architect, was shot near Aachen in April 1945.

Balfour was buried in the Reichswald forest war cemetery, near Cleves, and an archive room at King's is named in his honour. The college is custodian of most of his papers.

In Germany, Balfour has not been forgotten. For decades, flowers were left on his grave by a Cleves woman whose brother had been killed in the war. A local archive, then a street, were named in his honour. In 1985 Balfour's family accepted the prestigious German bravery award, the Johanna Sebus Medaille, on his behalf.

Balfour's descendants are dismayed that the film, though based on a history of the MFAA officers and featuring an English historian serving with the MFAA with the rank of major who worked on the frontline – as only Balfour did – has ignored the real hero.

"We were astounded when we heard that Hugh Bonneville was going to play the character we thought might be Ronald," says Polly Hutchison, one of Balfour's nieces. "He is so different."

Billed as "based on the true story of the greatest treasure hunt in history" – the search for art stolen by leading Nazis during the war, which is the film's central theme – the film's makers concede that they have "taken some liberties" with the characters for dramatic purposes. They say that there is no character in The Monuments Men called Ronald Balfour, and that the Bonneville character is entirely made up.

Last month, Clooney's film was criticised by an Austrian writer, Konrad Kramar, for crediting to MFAA officers the salvation of a vast horde of art stolen from across Europe. The art had been stored in Alpine salt mines at Altaussee in Austria and was targeted for destruction by Hitler in the last weeks of the war. In a new book, Kramar claims that it was the miners who removed explosive charges from the mines, with the Monuments Men arriving there nearly two weeks later.

"I feel that Ronald has now been twice unrecognised," said Hutchison. "First, that his own country has not recognised him, and then when there's a film, he's unrecognised again."

"There is a lot of family pride in what he did," said niece Virginia Cardwell Moore. "He was brilliant, and would have had a great future. But after 1945 Ronald was overlooked. But in the family we've talked about him all our lives."

"He's a family legend, if you like," said another niece, Delphie Stockwell. "Often it's hard to work out what he was doing, and who for, even before his monuments work started."

In 2007, the US Senate passed a resolution recognising the work of the officers of the MFAA, and last month their importance – and the looming film – led to the award of a Congressional gold medal.

Germans find it strange that Balfour's bravery and his achievements have not been recognised by a British government. "Here he saved the last great medieval building standing," said local resident Paul-Gerhard Küsters. "Cleves was 97% destroyed in the war, but Ronald Balfour saved archives and buildings here. It is a pity that the English do not know about him."


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Re: Claims the film ignores one of the British heroes....(spoilers)

Post by party animal - not! on Sun Jan 19 2014, 00:49

Balfour was certainly in the book Monuments Men, so I think this is understandable, but of course the boys' defence I imagine would be that they couldn't possibly include everyone who was involved. And that's understandable too

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Re: Claims the film ignores one of the British heroes....(spoilers)

Post by it's me on Sun Jan 19 2014, 00:51

now they will

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Re: Claims the film ignores one of the British heroes....(spoilers)

Post by LizzyNY on Sun Jan 19 2014, 04:43

There was no way they could have included everyone who was actually involved. I think they probably tried to present a sampling of the participants and the essence of the effort they all made while at the same time trying to make an entertaining film. The fact that they are telling the story at all is a testament to all the men who were involved and if it results in more art being recovered, that would be the greatest tribute of all.

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Re: Claims the film ignores one of the British heroes....(spoilers)

Post by Mazy on Sun Jan 19 2014, 05:32

I think that you ar right no way they could include everyone. They movie would not be long enough to have all the stories.

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Re: Claims the film ignores one of the British heroes....(spoilers)

Post by it's me on Sun Jan 19 2014, 10:35

maybe some other now will try to tell them Very Happy

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Re: Claims the film ignores one of the British heroes....(spoilers)

Post by Carla97 on Sun Jan 19 2014, 10:36

Well the name says it all. And it´s a movie, a story, not documentary. Can´t wait to see it, everything sounds VERRRRY promising.

As more art being recoverd is a trickier part...to whom those pieces belong? Just a while ago (december I think) Merkel and Putin were talking about the issue. Russian has something Merkel thinks should be in Germany. Long memo she gave him, I don´t think he´ll return not so much as a paper clip she used to put the memo together.

(Frau Merkel is a person, who is keeping the Euro's nose above wasser, but seems to be under the illusion that her good pal Vlad has actually left the KGB and no longer pines for the days of those glorious Five Year Plans. But he does, HIS country is in the process of being transformed into its old form as we speak.)

So very interesting this issue! And as it is up and makes news, good for the movie, definately!

Where do most of the looted art belong? Most of it probably belongs in Israel maybe? Wait a minute, that sits on land stolen from the Palestinians...just a thought.  Wink 

Apologies, my post must be crazier than usually. A bit bored, but wakey wakey up and alert, that´s all.

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Re: Claims the film ignores one of the British heroes....(spoilers)

Post by Nicky80 on Sun Jan 19 2014, 11:50

pity1

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Re: Claims the film ignores one of the British heroes....(spoilers)

Post by Nicky80 on Sun Jan 19 2014, 11:54

345 men and women from up to 17 nations. Britain provided the second-largest group of specialists.


For sure they couldn't tell the story of each of them. If they start promoting the movie in the UK this might will come up.


But I find it interesting that they write that the English people don't even know him and the British government never honored him. And now with the movie the British press starts complaining that he is not in it. Funny turn......At least the movie gets attention. Everyone talks about it   Thumbs up! 

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Re: Claims the film ignores one of the British heroes....(spoilers)

Post by it's me on Sun Jan 19 2014, 12:20

RIGHT !

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Re: Claims the film ignores one of the British heroes....(spoilers)

Post by Joanna on Sun Jan 19 2014, 12:40

If the family of Ronald Balfour thought so much of their uncle then why haven't they written about him and brought his body back to UK ?
Maybe some people just want their 15 minutes of fame when someone else does all the hard work.
Just my opinion you understand.

Fact...
There are thousands of unsung heroes throughout Europe connected to World War 2.

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Re: Claims the film ignores one of the British heroes....(spoilers)

Post by Nicky80 on Sun Jan 19 2014, 14:46

So true

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Re: Claims the film ignores one of the British heroes....(spoilers)

Post by ... on Mon Jan 20 2014, 04:58

The historical facts linked to the Monuments Men were mostly obscured from general public knowledge, and possibly limited to those in specialised fields of expertise, like art dealers or academics.

Robert Edsel gave this issue public awareness through his book MM & educational documentaries like co-producing  The Rape of Europa, & The Greatest Theft in History.

With George adapting it into a film, it brings the matter to public consciousness on a grande scale. Plus it's entertaining & aesthetically & sensuously appealing.

The film adaptation has many of the main characters but it's not a documentary that would list each individual fact verbatim, as per book.
It tells the story, focusing on certain important characters.

Perhaps the rolling credits thank & acknowledge each and everyone involved in the plight to rescue the art & centuries of cultural significance. Or at the very least, the conjecture is that the film represents all involved.


Last edited by Ocean on Mon Jan 20 2014, 12:57; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Claims the film ignores one of the British heroes....(spoilers)

Post by Boshkash on Mon Jan 20 2014, 05:28

Also George said in the press conference that they changed the names so they could play with characters in a way to serve the story, so it is based on those people and their story, not really them..

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Re: Claims the film ignores one of the British heroes....(spoilers)

Post by it's me on Mon Jan 20 2014, 05:32

good move pal!

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Re: Claims the film ignores one of the British heroes....(spoilers)

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