Dame Vera Lynn: A look back at the movie roles of the forces' sweetheart

Tom Beasley
Contributor
Dame Vera Lynn starred in 1943 musical We'll Meet Again. (Columbia Pictures)

The iconic British wartime entertainer Dame Vera Lynn has passed away at the age of 103, triggering an outpouring of grief across the country.

Dame Vera was dubbed “the forces’ sweetheart” as a mark of her fame during the Second World War and her most famous song, We’ll Meet Again, has recently seen a surge of popularity during the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, she became the oldest artist to ever appear on the UK Albums Chart when her greatest hits collection re-entered the charts in May, breaking her own record.

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But it wasn’t just in the world of music that Dame Vera achieved great success. She also appeared on the big screen several times during the war, parlaying her stardom to the cinema for some morale-boosting works.

During the wartime years, Dame Vera made three musical movies. Despite their star’s significance and beloved status in British history, these films have been largely lost to time. But in the wake of Dame Vera’s death, it’s well worth taking a look back at them.

We’ll Meet Again (1943)

Dame Vera Lynn in We'll Meet Again. (Columbia Pictures)

Named after her most famous song, We’ll Meet Again introduced Dame Vera to the big screen with a semi-autobiographical story very loosely based on her life. She plays music hall dancer Peggy Brown during the London Blitz, who forms a songwriting bond with her best friend after she successfully entertains a hall full of scared civilians during an air raid. A demo of one of her songs accidentally ends up on BBC radio, making her a star.

As a result of its link to Dame Vera’s most beloved song, the movie is the best known of her on-screen roles and was recently aired on Channel 4 over the Easter weekend, following the Queen’s reference to the song in an address to the nation.

Rhythm Serenade (1943)

Dame Vera Lynn in Rhythm Serenade. (Columbia Pictures)

Another patriotic romance made by the British arm of Columbia Pictures, Rhythm Serenade stars Dame Vera as Ann Martin. She’s a teacher who attempts to join the military when her school is closed, but is instead encouraged to open up a nursery at a munitions factory so that the children’s mothers can work safely.

As with We’ll Meet Again, the film was made as an attempt to improve the morale of the British public during the war. It also shares an unusual producer with its predecessor in the ukulele-wielding music hall icon George Formby, who was under contract with Columbia at the time. It’s not clear whether any windows were cleaned.

One Exciting Night (1944)

US lobby card for 1944 film You Can't Do Without Love aka One Exciting Night. (LMPC via Getty Images)

In the 1944 musical thriller One Exciting Night – also known elsewhere as You Can’t Do Without Love – Dame Vera portrays aspiring singer Vera Baker. She’s trying to impress famed producer Michael Thorne (Donald Stewart) at a benefit concert, but Thorne is kidnapped by thieves on the hunt for a priceless work of art. The thieves assume Vera to be Thorne’s lover, sparking shenanigans in which she must foil the criminals and save the day.

This was more of a genre effort from Dame Vera, featuring some more elaborate set pieces and swapping sweeping romance for something of a crime farce. It could almost certainly have been the springboard for a more diverse cinematic career but, after the war, Dame Vera focused solely on her music work.