Noted as a breakthrough film for many of the production's participants, "Soldier of Orange" refers to Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema's role as an elite solider for Holland's Queen Wilhemina (the Royal family name being Orange), and was based on Roelfzema's autobiography, which chronicled his participation in the Dutch resistance before becoming a personal aid to the Queen after the war.
Like Paul Verhoeven's previous "Katie Tippel," some of the cinematic cliches in “Orange” actually occurred, and the director, with co-writers Gerard Soeteman and Kees Holierhoek, fashioned a potent war epic that avoids a heavy, moral stand. Perhaps an effort to stay true to Roelfzema's book - which cut out material out of respect for the Queen and her family - the filmmakers nevertheless added direct and implied criticisms of Resistance members: those who fought and died for their country, and those who were caught by the Nazis and stayed alive by working for the occupying army.
Verhoeven's a natural raconteur, and offers plenty of fine details in one of his best solo commentary tracks: he covers his own years at the same university where Roelfzema studied, and the vicious hazing which sometimes became lethal; Holland's neutral stand after England declared war on Germany, and the rapid assault that led to the country's quick occupation; and plenty of historical facts regarding life during Nazi occupation.
There's also a notable emphasis on various levels of guilt, mistrust, and deception, and Verhoeven discusses the 'Englandspiele' – British-Dutch espionage that maintained radio contact, which led to the inland parachuting of British and Dutch spies into Holland. (Though an embellishment with American involvement, “13 Rue Madeleine” touches upon the short-lived campaign.)
Besides other key issues - the Queen's flight from her homeland and waiting out the war in London; and England's allegedly mischievous use of Dutch spies to convince Hitler of an Allied invasion through Holland - Verhoeven also points out the film's near-accurate use of locations, along with fairly generous notes on his superb cast. As with "Turkish Delight," Rutger Hauer wasn't the director's first choice, and Verhoeven admits he fell for the Typecasting Demon in both cases; Hauer's never been better on film, and his dual Dutch/English speaking role no doubt caught Hollywood's attention a few years later.
Hauer and co-star Jerone Krabbe - the latter making his feature film debut - engaged in some professional rivalries, though Verhoeven didn't know until the actors admitted their existing friction in subsequent press interviews. Along with Edward Fox (everyone's favourite for playing an English upper crust snot), Susan Penhaligon (better known today for her starring role in Richard Franklin's "Patrick," in 1978) also appears in the London sequences.
Anchor Bay's transfer is made from a clean print, with stable colours and good blues and blacks for the night sequences. The mono sound mix is well-balanced, and showcases myriad period songs, and one of Rogier van Otterloo's final scores.
A prestige production costing $2.5 million, "Soldier of Orange" also marks the first time Verhoeven worked with Jost Vacano, after cinematographer Jan de Bont had left for America to film the troubled Tippi Hedren project, "Roar." Vacano, Verhoeven, and producer Rob Houwer appear in several black & white production stills, along with colour publicity shots, and snapshots from the souvenir booklet in the DVD's generous still gallery.
There's also a brief theatrical teaser, which uses Holland's flag and rippling text to make audiences hungry for the film, without showing a single frame.
This title is available separately, or as part of the "The Paul Verhoeven" boxed set (DV11957). The slickly designed set includes "Business Is Business," "The 4th Man," "Katie Tippel," "Soldier of Orange," and "Turkish Delight" and plus a 12-page colour booklet.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan