Nuns & Nurses
As the Japanese army swept across South East Asia a small group of nurses, nuns and wounded soldiers find themselves prisoners in the small mission at Vunapope. Thanks to the bravery of Bishop Leo Scharmach (Gerald Lepkowski) he manages to prevent the Japanese from killing everyone by bluffing he is a friend of Hitler. It is in the mission that nurse Lorna Johnston (Sarah Snook) and Sister Berenice Twohill (Claire van der Boom) meet and despite being very different form a surprising friendship as they witness death, heroics and due to the friendliness of the Bishop with the Japanese Captain question whether he is a traitor.
Before watching "Sisters of War" I was sure this would be another take on the "Tenko" style storyline which whilst based on true stories would have the similar elements of women in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. And to be honest it does have its similarities as we witness what the women went through, from making tough choices to save each other to trying to assist soldiers on the outside with the constant threat of execution if they get caught.
But "Sisters of War" feels very different and less about the camaraderie and more a dramatized account of what happened, taken from various sources but focusing on the accounts of the real nurse Lorna Johnston and Sister Berenice Twohill. As such there is no stiff upper lip, in fact Lorna is initially full of gallows humour as she expects to be raped and shot before the week is out. But this more direct and often visual take makes it far more riveting than similar movies and it doesn't hold back be it in the sheer horror of seeing the injured to seeing a man executed. It also means it is full of atmosphere and the scene early on as the nuns and nurses prepare for the Japanese to sweep into the mission is so tense that it has you on edge.
What is also interesting about "Sisters of War" is the conflicted friendship between Lorna and Berenice as Lorna begins to question whether Bishop Leo Scharmach is a traitor. We also have the added element of them being split up as at one point the nurses are shipped out to Yokohama and we get the parallel accounts from Lorna and Berenice which almost mirror each other as we learn about the hardships they face individually.
All of which is handled quite brilliantly by director Brendan Maher who does the source material justice and delivers a TV movie which has action, atmosphere, drama and danger to rival many a big screen movie. But what is really nice is the understated performances as both Claire van der Boom as Sister Berenice and Sarah Snook as Lorna both deliver believable characters but never feel like they are trying to steal the limelight. It is the same though out with every performance being sympathetic to the story rather than actors trying to showcase their talents by forcing it.
What this all boils down to is that "Sisters of War" is what I would like to call one of the new breed of TV movies which not only look good but also have a good storyline at their heart and certainly worth 90 minutes of your time.