Far from the lush hills of his native Ireland, a young man struggles to protect his cousin amid the acrid smoke and horror of the trenches in WWI Belgium.

Reviewed by Lorne Nudel

Inspired by the story of 26 Irish soldiers shot for desertion, director David Roddham tells this moving tale of courage and injustice in an impressively realistic re-creation of the terrible battlegrounds of Ypres, Belgium circa 1917.

War in all its forms is abhorrent, but the trenches of WWI, often just meters from the enemy, where troops froze in mud, fought hand to hand with bayonets and lived under bombardments that lasted weeks, has always seemed especially harrowing.

Roddham and his crew of nearly 350 took four weeks to build a 200 foot trench and surrounding “No Man’s Land” on 3 acres of field in Hertfordshire, less that one hour’s drive north of London, UK.

Researching WWI, one of the key things that came through a lot was the conditions. One minute it’s raining, the next minute it’s snowing. They can’t keep dry. They’ve got their friends being shot all around them…that’s what really hit home for me. I remember sitting in the trench one day and looking up at the sky and just thinking, ‘How horrific must have it been?’

– David Roddham

That pervasive sense of fear and discomfort is brought to life not only by the physical effects, but also by the performance of Martin McCann as he is wrenched by the emotional and physical stress of protecting his young cousin amid the terrifying bombardment.

Their predicament is worsened by the callous and arbitrary treatment of the Irish by their British superiors, themselves just boys, and highlights the injustice and senseless waste of young lives.

Nowadays PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an accepted combat injury, but in WWI many who suffered from what at the time was called “Shell Shock” were convicted and executed for cowardice and desertion.

Despite the conditions McCann, as the young Patterson, displays great courage and strength of character as he strives to make good on his promise to keep his cousin safe and yet, war makes a casualty of everyone.

With its ironic title, “Coward” is well wrought, and tells a story that is thoughtful, emotionally affecting and serves those that suffered, a justice they deserve.
David Roddham discusses how he came to the project and some details of the production in “The Making of Coward” which is available to view here: