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A Doctor's Sword Review

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Stories about war heroes are usually crammed with exaggerated examples of bravado, all semblance of nuance and subtlety thrown out the window to serve a narrative that depends on action and larger than life characters to bring it to life. Dr. Aidan MacCarthy, the focus of this arresting documentary, couldn't be further from the stereotype.

A Cork native from a large family, and something of an accomplished athlete in his youth, A Doctor's Sword is the story of his time serving with the RAF - he signed up just as England joined the WWII in 1940 - first at Dunkirk when a beach became a bloodbath, then as a POW in Asia for a grueling four years, through to how he came to be in Nagasaki just as America dropped the atomic bomb, and the aftermath of that devastating event on the Japanese people and the doctor himself.


Cheating death on a number of occasion throughout the various conflicts he found himself in, his heroism didn't go unnoticed, and Dr. MacCarthy earned himself medals and citations for bravery during his service, not least for saving the lives of three airmen from a burning bomber plane and for his part in helping fellow prisoners from a boat that was sunk by a torpedo.

The film follows Aidan MacCarthy's daughter Nicola as she retraces some of her father's footsteps in Japan, in an effort to track down the owner of the titular blade, a token that was presented to him by a Japanese officer shortly after the Nagasaki bombing and bears the inscription "To my friend Dr MacCarthy, I give you this sword as a token of our friendship."


Directed by Gary Lennon, the story is lended added depth and poignancy by the use of an RTE radio interview with the late doctor from 1994. Humble, modest and reticent to talk at length about the horrors he witnessed during the war, his softly spoken tone echos through the movie and only serves to make him all the more intriguing a figure. There are also some beautiful, hand-drawn animations that conjure up the more action-packed elements of MacCarthy's story and recall another powerful documentary from a survivor of man-made terrors; Camp 14.

While some may find themselves reluctant to seek out a film with a running time of only 70 minutes in a cinema, A Doctor's Sword packs more than enough drama and extraordinary reflections of human nature into it's brief span for it to be worth your while. This is a gem of a documentary and as much as it is a fascinating character study of a genuine war hero, it is also a story about human resilience and the indomitable spirit.




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The Movie Bit: A Doctor's Sword Review
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