Made in 2012, Coward is a brutal look at the horrors of WWI and the hard but necessary practices that were carried out from time to time. The short film was inspired by the desertion and subsequent executions of several Irish soldiers during the war. It is very provocative in that it gives you an uncertain picture of just what the war meant on a few different levels.
Trench warfare was particularly brutal, and did not favor those operating in the trenches. When the bombs began to fall there was little if any real cover to be had. The trenches were for the most part useful against snipers and machine gun fire, and for conveying troops from one point to another without risking their safety. But the truth is that when the bombs began to fall they were death traps, as soldiers could either flee the trenches or die where they were.
Coward follows the story of two enlisted Irishmen that are sent to the front and must make their way through the trenches while fighting not just the enemy but also the sheer boredom and other various challenges that the war brought. This film shows that it was not all gunfire and glorious death, but a great deal of hardship and personal sacrifice that went on as well. The men were at each other’s throats now and again due to the close proximity and the continued pressure of knowing that they could perish at any given moment. At that time, even the small pleasures, such as a cigarette, could be a blessing from above.
Nothing about the war was easy. Not even dying was a simple thing. Men would go for days and weeks without any reprieve from their current station and would be berated horribly for the slightest of offenses. No one went untouched by the horrid conditions that they were forced to endure in order to hold the front.
When the bombs finally started to fall however they had no choice but to escape the trenches. This led to open warfare upon the torn and blasted fields that lay between their forces and the enemy. The two cousins made their way upward as well, with the more dominant of the two all but dragging his cousin forward. The constant ringing that could be heard was the aftereffect of the mortar that had gone off so close to them, causing a serious loss of hearing that would no doubt hamper them on the field. It can be admitted Andrew, the more dominant cousin, was at least attempting to remedy their situation by seeking to operate the machine gun that he’d found nearby.
When it was obvious that it would not work however he was out of options, and since his cousin James was in no shape to help as much Andrew, already stunned and unable to do much, was unprepared when another mortar hit nearby. After the battle you can see him wandering around in a daze, seemingly looking for something, James supposedly, but not finding him. Not long after Andrew departs the battlefield, only to be found later and accused of desertion and cowardice.
He is at least able to see his cousin before the day of his execution comes, but the real shock is that James must be one of his executioners. Andrew does not rail against his fate, nor does he blame James for anything. He meets his end as a brave man, not as a coward.
WWI was undeniably brutal, as this film so obviously points out.