Saving Private Ryan: The best war film ever, if you've not seen many war films

WITH a Rotten Tomatoes user score of 95 per cent and a high ranking in every ‘greatest films of all time’ poll, it’s practically illegal not to love Saving Private Ryan. So what on earth could be wrong with this flawless WW2 masterpiece?

Tom Hanks

Amiable Hanks doesn’t quite convince as US ranger Captain John Miller. The film partly explains this by saying he was a school teacher previously, but in reality his casting was probably due to him being very, very bankable at the time. Sadly the viewer can’t forget him as a doofus in Splash. Or the awkward issue of sex with a 12-year-old in Big.

It’s amazing if you haven’t seen any other war films 

The praise is so effusive you wonder if fans have seen a war film before. There are quite a few. For realism there’s Stalingrad or Full Metal Jacket. Epics like A Bridge Too Far are pretty historically accurate. Apocalypse Now may have artistic pretensions, but it’s got a lot to say about Vietnam. Or if man’s inhumanity to man is your thing there’s Come and See. Although you may need counselling afterwards.

It’s pure Hollywood underneath the grittiness  

The Tiger tank apparently exploding after being shot with a pistol is a classic clever Spielberg shot. Meanwhile characters follow the classic trajectory of overcoming a challenge and emerging a better person. It’s satisfying Hollywood fare, and you feel thoroughly entertained by the end. Like Jaws, oddly enough.

It ignores the role of other nations in D-Day

A common but slightly hair-splitting criticism. It is, after all, an American film with an American focus. However it does inadvertently wander into ‘America singlehandedly won the war’ territory. The last thing we need is another Pearl Harbor, a film so realistic Ben Affleck may as well have karate-kicked Hitler off the roof of the Reichstag and shagged Leni Riefenstahl.

True story syndrome 

US soldiers whose siblings had all died were sent home or put in a safe role. Frederick Niland, who Ryan was based on, wasn’t ever lost and no rescue party was sent after him – and such missions would probably be deemed too risky. The film never claims to be true, but it loses some of its gravitas when you realise the actual story is as made-up as Thelma & Louise.   

The prologue and epilogue 

The scenes of Ryan visiting Miller’s grave add nothing to the story. Unless you felt a good film needed to be bookended by schmaltz about the ‘greatest generation’ and some crowd-pleasing shots of the American flag. If you need a war film to hammer home how great America is, there’s not exactly a shortage.

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Let's move to the gleaming metropolis of pasties and Fred Dibnah. This week: Bolton

What’s it about?

A large mill town north of Manchester, Bolton was granted market status by Henry III. More importantly, weird steeplejack Fred Dibnah grew up there and destroyed chimneys, to the delight of 1970s TV viewers. There wasn’t streaming in those days.

To the east lies the cotton industry town of Bury, to the south the Happy Mondays industry of the City of Salford. Bolton applied to become a city in 2011. It was rejected and remains a very big town. Like a city.

Boltonians participated in the English Civil War and have perpetuated the conflict mentality in more recent times by battling over governance by Greater Manchester or Lancashire.

Any good points?

Pasties. Bolton boasts the two greatest pastie emporia in existence: Ye Olde Pastie Shop and Carrs Pasties. The former has been housed in the same building since the 17th century, while the latter operates an order and pickup establishment which Argos can only dream of. 

The Food and Drink Festival over the August bank holiday weekend is popular, as is the festival of physical stupidity known as Ironman.

As populous as it is, you quickly realise everyone knows everyone else in Bolton. It’s one huge family and has spawned many celebrities, such as Vernon Kay, Sara Cox, Amir Khan, Diane Morgan, Damon Gough and Maxine Peake, to name a few. All of whom have left Bolton and are ignored locally to prevent them ‘getting too big for their boots’.

Wonderful landscape?

On the edge of the West Pennine Moors, Bolton nestles under under the watchful gaze of the giant transmitter on Winter Hill and pompous middle-class picnickers on Rivington Pike. Walking in the surrounding countryside is popular, and from the high points you can see marvellous year-round vistas of grey cloud.

A short drive from the town centre will take you past the sprawling, picturesque and posh-as-fuck Bolton School, where Sir Ian McKellen bade farewell to his Northern accent.

Hang out at…

The 13th century Man and Scythe Inn on Churchgate, where you can relive the execution of the Earl of Derby. Or undergo your own painful death by visiting more modern hostelries nearby.

The elegant Le Mans Crescent behind the Town Hall has featured in dozens of detective dramas and the North’s main industry these days, Peaky Blinders. It also hosts a historic library and museum to visit when it’s raining. You’ll be glad of that.

Then there’s Bolton Steam Museum, where giant engines are occasionally fired up for enthusiasts to stare at in Britain’s equivalent of the Large Hadron Collider.

Where to buy?

The more desirable areas of Bolton tend to be along the main escape roads towards outlying villages of stone-built houses, hidden behind coloured stone walls and rows of unnecessary vehicles. Or if affordability is your priority, rent a shop space in the town centre, board it up and live there.

Yes, the town centre is a patchwork of fragile grade II buildings sandwiched between shithole apartments and empty office space. Even Bolton Wanderers, hardly a club with the status and glamour of Real Madrid, sold up and moved out of town.

From the streets:

Wayne Hayes, 46, said: “Bolton’s grand, apart from them trying to give every road in town a cycle lane when no fucker rides a bike. They should rename them ‘Ye Olde Cycle Lanes’ then at least Northern history nerds will use them.”