Varian's War

Varian's War Information

Varian's War (aka Varian's War: The Forgotten Hero) is a 2001 joint Canadian/United Kingdom film made-for-television drama. The film was written and directed by Lionel Chetwynd, based on the life and wartime exploits of Varian Fry who saved more than 2,000 Jewish artists from occupied France. Varian's War stars William Hurt, heading an all-star ensemble cast of Julia Ormond, Matt Craven, Maury Chaykin, Alan Arkin and Lynn Redgrave.


While in Berlin during Kristallnacht in 1938, journalist Varian Fry (William Hurt) witnessed the Nazi's brutal treatment of Jews. He was physically sick and felt helpless to help the victims that the brown-shirted thugs had clubbed to the ground. The experience left him with a resolve to do something to help the Jews.

Back in the United States, Fry begins to canvass his influential friends and acquaintances, only to find indifference and even, anti-semitism. Learning that the Nazis have targeted artists and intelligentsia, he approaches the State Department with a plan and a few names including artist Marc Chagall (Joel Miller), scrawled on a list. When the State Department tries to block his plans to head back to Europe, Fry finds an ally in First lady Eleanor Roosevelt (Sheena Larkin) who intervenes on his behalf.

In 1940, heading for Marseille in Nazi-occupied Vichy France, where he knows that Jewish artists have taken refuge, Fry arrives with money to bribe officials. Chagall is safely housed by Vice Consul Harry Bingham (Ted Whittall), a U.S. consulate official, but like many other expatriates, Chagall believes he is safe in France. Word spreads quickly in Marseille that an American will help Jews to escape Vichy France. In setting up an office out of his hotel room, Fry encounters Miriam Davenport (Julia Ormond) who helps him screen the numerous refugees that begin lining up at his hotel.

Two other accomplices approach Fry, Albert Hirschman (Matt Craven), a Jewish con-man that he names "Beamish", and Bill Freier (Alan Arkin), a counterfeit expert. With picture-perfect forged passes and identification cards, Fry begins to send Jewish artists out of France to Spain where they can arrange transport to the United States. Both French and German officials suspect that Fry is deceitful and assign agents such as Captain Marius Franken (Christopher Heyerdahl) to follow him.

With French collaborators turning in Jews, an urgency to leave begins to take hold. Even Chagall now joins with author Heinrich Mann (John Dunn-Hill) and others in seeking transport out of Marseille. Fry and Davenport decide to shepherd the large group of frightened refugees, first on a train, then taking the group on a long hike through a mountain forest to a checkpoint where, if their documents will be accepted, means they will be free to enter neutral Spain.

Despite some near misses, the Jewish artists, musicians, authors, painters, sculptors and other "elites" make their way to freedom. Fry's clandestine underground escape route over the Pyrenees eventually brings more than 2,000 Jewish exiles including Marc Chagall and Bella Chagall, Hannah Arendt, Max Ernst, Lion Feuchtwanger, Franz Werfel and Jacques Lipchitz, among others, out of Vichy France.


  • William Hurt as Varian Fry
  • Julia Ormond as Miriam Davenport
  • Matt Craven as Albert Hirschman ("Beamish")
  • Maury Chaykin as Marcello
  • Alan Arkin as Bill Freier
  • Lynn Redgrave as Alma Werfel-Mahler
  • Rmy Girard as Colonel Joubert (credited as Remy Girard)
  • Gloria Carlin as Bella Chagall
  • Christopher Heyerdahl as Marius Franken
  • Joel Miller as Marc Chagall
  • Vlasta Vrana as Franz Werfel
  • John Dunn-Hill as Heinrich Mann
  • Ted Whittall as Hiram "Harry" Bingham IV
  • Sheena Larkin as Eleanor Roosevelt


Producers of Varian's War included Barwood Film's chief executive, Barbra Streisand and Cis Corman, along with Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, the head of Ardent Productions. The trio acted as executive producers in their first and only collaboration.

Varian's War was filmed entirely in Montreal with principal photography beginning on May 3, 2000 and having wrapped by June 14, 2000. Additional exteriors and studio shots at Audio Cine Films Inc. took place over August-September 2000. In filming in Canada, a large Canadian supporting cast was assembled that included Christopher Heyerdahl, Remy Girard, Gloria Carlin, Dorothee Berryman as a brothel madame, Pascale Montpetit, Vlasta Vrana, Joel Miller, Maury Chaykin and Aubert Pallascio.

Historical accuracy

When released, Varian's War was advertised as "The true story of the American Schindler", a claim that was roundly decried as inaccurate by historians. Although loosely based on the life of Varian Fry, the film received a Hollywood treatment, merging characters and over dramatizing events. Bill Bingham, the son of Hiram Bingham IV, commented: "The film is dreadfully inaccurate and demeaning to Fry, Feuchtwanger, Miriam Davenport and others, despite the apparent desire to honor them."


Varian's War was telecast on Showtime television network on April 21, 2001 to mainly negative reviews. Darryl Miller of the Los Angeles Times wrote: "Noble intentions aside, Varian's War ... is a mess of a movie that leaves viewers with more questions than answers about Varian Fry ... Clumsily constructed and hollowly acted, it's a project that its lead performers - William Hurt and Julia Ormond - along with Barbra Streisand's Barwood Films, should quickly try to bury in their resumes ... Writer-director Lionel Chetwynd fudges a lot of facts, beginning with the implication that Fry founded the Emergency Rescue Committee. Chetwynd also plays fast and loose with depictions of the supporting characters, including Fry's associate, Miriam Davenport (Ormond), and the writer Lion Feuchtwanger."

The Washington Post review by Lloyd Grove did, however, include a tantalizing tidbit. Columnist Fred Barnes from the Weekly Standard was so impressed with Varian's War that he sent a video copy to White House aide Karl Rove, and subsequently, with Rove raving about the film, a special screening was arranged for President George W. Bush. "... written and directed by Brit-turned-American Lionel Chetwynd and starring William Hurt as Varian Fry, a Harvard-educated American journalist who rescued 2,000 artists and intellectuals from Nazi-occupied France ..." Hurt's co-stars, Julia Ormond and Lynn Redgrave, Chetwynd and his wife, actress Gloria Carlin, were in attendance.

After broadcast by the Showtime Networks/Showtime Entertainment, Varian's War was also released internationally as Varian"?s War: A Forgotten Hero by Alliance Atlantis Communications.


At the 2001 WorldFest Houston film festival, Lionel Chetwynd won the Gold Special Jury Award (Best Director), while at the 2002 Satellite Awards, Julie Ormand won for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Miniseries or a Motion Picture Made for Television while Varian's War won as the Best Motion Picture Made for Television. William Hurt was also nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Miniseries or a Motion Picture Made for Television.

Other nominations included Nicoletta Massone for Best Achievement in Costume Design at the 2002 Genie Awards and Lionel Chetwynd was nominated for the WGA Award (TV) in Original Long Form for the 2002 Writers Guild of America Awards.

See also

This webpage uses material from the Wikipedia article "Varian%27s_War" and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reality TV World is not responsible for any errors or omissions the Wikipedia article may contain.



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