I am back. Back from a world of mud and tents but also of surf and sand.
Before I was away I had one of those perfect Saturday afternoons when I found a black and white film on the television that I just could not stop watching.
The sky was that deep, angry grey that only seems to descend on London at the weekend (or perhaps I only notice at the weekend). The rain was pouring down so much that even I, despite romantic uttering about quite enjoying a walk in a storm, could not face going outside. So I turned to the tiny television with its angry wasp analogue reception and vintage selection of channels (yes I'm moving soon- I'll actually quite miss the angry noisy telly, it has quite a personality).
BBC2 is very reliable in these circumstances, it also has the happy habit of always seeming to be starting a film at precisely the time I want it to. So it was that I happened upon Carve Her Name with Pride, a film I had meant to see for a long time but never actually had.
This film is, briefly, the story of Violette Szabo a special operations executive officer who was recruited to pose as a French national and work with the French resistance during the Nazi occupation. You may know the more recent stories of women like Violette from David Hare's play Plenty or Sebastien Faulks' book (and the film adaptation) Charlotte Gray; both the play, the book and the film are fascinating for different reasons of course but Carve Her Name with Pride is their Mother if you like.
The film stars Virginia McKenna who gives a typically quiet but incredibly honest performance. She manages to show you just how unbelievably strong but fragile these women must have been. This film is of course made by people from the countries who won the battle of the war and had made enormous sacrifices to do that and is perhaps understandably sympathetic to the Allied cause. Many films from the 1950s are if not biased then from a particular viewpoint but aside from the black and white colour this film could have been made yesterday. It is, clearly, extremely sympathetic to Violette and the women like her, it shows their frailties though, what they were less able to do perhaps, presents the choice of leaving a young child and whether that is right, whether fighting for what you believe in and or for love is right. Yes many of the Nazi characters do awful things in this film- but many Nazis did- they are not presented as the pantomime villains of plenty of films from that time and in modern cinema.
I don’t want to say more than that about the film because I of course don’t want to spoil it. Yes the subject matter is heavy but it isn’t a heavy watch actually- and I couldn’t stop watching- I was late for what I was going to and happy to be. I was flawed by Violette Szabo, or McKenna’s presentation of her. Could I do what she did? Make those decisions and choices and behave with that level of dignity and honour she did? I thought about that long and hard that day- and I have since. Honestly I don’t think I could have done what the SOE women did- I think I would have fallen at the first hurdle, but perhaps they thought they would and they found a way to be remarkable- to exceed themselves. Violette Szabo was no different to many other women of the time, except that she had the fortune or misfortune, the gift or curse of speaking French to mother tongue standard.
You can read more about Violette here and do give the film a chance, it deserves to be seen.
I went to a party later and I had a wonderful time- I partied as hard as I could while the wind swirled and the rain lashed outside because I’m very lucky to not have to make the choices men and women before me did.