As we keep to our homes, we can still dream of a time when we travel again. May it be soon. Until then, we can stay safe and responsible, and indulge travel vicariously, by visiting Crete on screen. Crete has been the setting to some wonderful films. Know that we look forward to seeing you when travel is safe again, and in the meantime, perhaps you might enjoy a Cretan-themed watch party (Raki optional).
Films of Crete to Watch Now
Crete in the Second World War – a Proud History on Screen
Crete’s proud history in WWII is the inspiration for both a gripping and fictional mini series, a thrilling historic tale of heroism, complete with real-life dashing protagonists, and a documentary of the heroic Cretan resistance. There is also a biopic based on the complex and surprising story of a German boxer, one of the invaders of Crete. Watching these films is an enjoyable introduction to this proud chapter in the history of Crete, and may provide you valuable insight into the Cretan psyche. After all, when we travel, it is not just the beautiful places we visit; the character of the people leaves the most lasting impressions.
Who Pays the Ferryman?
IMBD link [Rating 7.9]
This BBC production of 1977 is set on the (then) present. Former soldier Alan Haldane, a boat-builder, returns to Crete after three decades searching for traces of the past. During WWII he had fought alongside the Andartes – the bold members of the Cretan resistance. He had done so with such boldness and courage as to earn him the name Leandros (a name derived from ancient Greek which means “a lion of a man”).
His return to the fabled island is fraught with complications. In addition to a fresh romantic interest, Haldane’s return brings back other memories – of Melina, another fighter in the Cretan resistance with whom he had a passionate liaison. A tangled story of family, loss, and love ensues. The dramatic series was filmed on site in beautiful Elounda, one of the gems of the eastern side of Crete.
Ill Met by Moonlight
IMBD link [Rating 6.6]
Watch the full movie on Youtube:
This 1957 film – also known by the title “Night Ambush” – is based on the book “Ill Met by Moonlight – the Abduction of General Kreipe.” The book was written by Ivan William Stanley Moss, who actually carried out the historic abduction together with comrade-in-arms Patrick Leigh Fermor – himself a notable author who has written beautifully of Greece. The book – published in 1950 – was hailed as one of the best of the year.
In the thrilling screen adaptation, the role of W.Stanley Moss is played by David Oxley, and that of Patrick Leigh Fermor by Dirk Bogarde. In 1944, Crete was occupied by Nazi forces, under the command of General Kreipe. With the aid of the Andartes, the General was captured and taken over the rough Cretan landscape to a secret cove. From there, they are met with a boat to deliver him to Cairo, and into British hands.
The 11th Day: Crete, 1941
IMBD link [Rating 8.3]
Anyone wishing to learn more about this fascinating and heroic era on Crete will do well to see this 2005 documentary, which features interviews with the surviving heroes of the era, both Cretan and British, including the Cretan resistance hero Giorgos Tzitzikas, the Greek American George Doundoulakis, who served under British Intelligence alongside Patrick Leigh Fermor, and Patrick Leigh Fermor himself. The account begins with the initial invasion by paratroopers – one of history’s largest. What emerges from the tale is the formidable and unforeseen obstacle to victory and capitulation that they had so unwisely anticipated – the united resolve and bravery, and uncompromising strong character, of the people of Crete – civilians and Antartes alike – themselves.
IMBD link [Rating 4.6]
This biopic begins with the protagonist parachuting into Crete, one of the invading Nazi forces who took over the island in 1941. He escorts a British prisoner of war. The man recognizes him as the famous German heavyweight boxing champion, and asks to hear his tale, which we now follow along with. In this retrospection, we see the boxer’s career as well as his absence of sympathy with the Nazi regime, including his protective stance towards his Jewish manager, and his help to the victims of the Kristallnacht. The action on screen returns to Crete, and about this we will say no more that you might enjoy the conclusion yourselves.
Hollywood on Crete
The Two Faces of January
IMBD link [Rating 6.2]
This more recent large screen mystery thriller, based on the 1964 book of the same title by Patricia Highsmith (we know her from The Talented Mr.Ripley as well), features locations familiar to lovers of Crete and of Greece. Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst star as a conman and his captivating wife, staying in Athens where the past starts to catch up with them. With the help of another man, they hide out in Crete. Those familiar with Crete will recognize scenes from Chalepa – the tavernas at the waterside by the ruins of former tanneries, perhaps.
There are also atmospheric scenes of the port of Chania, and of course of Knossos – where one of the most pivotal events of the film occurs (and we of course cannot not reveal what happens there). This is a beautifully filmed and stylish thriller, with a strong sense of place. The Two Faces of January is set in the era that the book was written, as you will see from the fashions, which only serves to highlight the timeless beauty of Crete that we enjoy unchanged.
The Moon Spinners
IMBD link [Rating 6.7]
Suspense and mystery abound in this 1964 film that begins with a young English woman named Nikky Ferris, played by Hayley Mills. Nikki is a musicologist studying folk music, making a visit to Elounda for a wedding. There, she meets fellow English man Mark. Before she knows it, Mark is in danger and on the run, but not before slipping in a romantic moonlight swim in Dolphin Bay. This is a Disney film, so you can expect a satisfying conclusion.
Zorba the Greek
IMBD link [Rating 7.7]
Of course, any watch party would be incomplete without this iconic film. Based on the Book The Life and Times of Alexis Zorba by Nikos Kazantzakis. The 1964 film stars Anthony Quinn in the title role, and was directed by the Greek Cypriot Michael Cacoyiannis. It was filmed on various locations in Crete, including Stavros – the village and beach of the Akrotiti peninsula in the Chania Regional Unit. It is here, on this beach at the base of the Mountain, that Anthony Quinn famously danced the Sirtaki, one of the most enduring images on screen of Greece that has ever been captured.
The soundtrack, too, is definitive, featuring Mikis Theodorakis’ title song Zorba the Greek. This emblematic song is perhaps at least as well known outside of Greece as in it – it’s one of the most familiar musical representations of Greece worldwide.
We hope that this post inspires you to watch one or more films of Crete. Have you seen any?