Friday 8 January 2010
Glorious 39 keeps coming into my mind and stopping me in my tracks.
The film is the latest work by Stephen Poliakoff, a man revered for his work for UK television at a time when we seem to have forgotten how to make good, original one off dramas consistently. I’ve always found it fascinating how much he works in TV when he can and has worked in film and admire his interest in television as a medium- for it is the kitchen table to film’s dining room table, the wool glove to film’s leather version. Kitchen tables and wool gloves have their place though don’t they- and at times there is nowhere I would rather sit and nothing I would rather wear.
This film has been out for quite a few weeks now and there are reviews in various places by people more qualified than me to give you a thorough analysis of it, without spoilers. Nevertheless for context in short the film is set in late 1930’s Britain and focuses particularly on a young, adopted teenage girl from a privileged family with significant lineage and the effect of the 'gathering storm' of war in Europe on them- and their wider circle.
The film is well shot, set in interesting but suitably period and at times very picturesque settings, the costumes are lovely, the accents and manners are refined and clipped and initially, with the sound turned off anyway, this could be a film like many others about the attractive, plucky British upper classes. It isn’t though. It is more like a Hitchcock film, admittedly perhaps not quite up to those standards. Still it comes from just to the side of where you think it will- it’s like being given a bouquet of flowers and cutting yourself on the thorns- perhaps not pleasant but it makes you take notice of the flowers.
The thing about Glorious 39 is it really made me think. It isn’t perfect at all but every time I have thought about war since I have really found myself looking inside myself, actually looking down at my chest and wondering- what would I have done at that time?
Then as now the default ‘good’ position was to oppose war and to do everything you could to stop it- and they had the deafening echo of the First world war in their ears which has become perhaps more of a whisper to us.
With the evidence I could see I was opposed to the war in Iraq and I continue to be, though I support the very brave soldiers and friends who are there absolutely truly and without question. In 1939 how would I, a liberal minded, non interventionist have felt about getting involved in a European war- especially with the information I was given by a less independent press- not the information I have now? Honestly would I have been trying to talk, appease, not intervene. Perhaps- which horrifies and chills me.
EM Forster wrote in the epilogue to A Room with a View that the hero, the idealistic shining light of that book, George Emerson, was a conscientious objector in the First World Ward but fought- and died- in the Second World War. It is received wisdom that that is the war it was okay to fight- and I still think it was- but Glorious 39 made me really think about that- in a way that many years of school and University had never done. To always remember again and again to look at the case as best as you can and not do what you ‘should’ do, what others you admire are doing, what is easy. For that reason alone I think it is a must see.
Romola Garai picture courtesy of The Independent.
Picture of Anne, Celia and Ralph courtesy of The Guardian