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Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Classic Film Review: Went The Day Well? (1942)

An Ealing Studios masterpiece, Went The Day Well? tells the story of a sleepy village which finds itself the prisoner of German soldiers in preparation for a big invasion. At first the villagers are fooled into thinking it's a British regiment billeted in their village but when the truth is uncovered it sparks a violent change in the German plans. Complicating matters is the fact that the local leader of the Home Guard Oliver Wilsford (Leslie Banks) is a German spy, putting the villagers on the back foot as he thwarts their attempts to seek help.

This is a gripping film, mainly because it takes the time to set the villagers up properly, giving the audience reason to care about them (aside from the obvious fact that they're British and fighting with the Germans). A few of the more significant characters are the post mistress Mrs Collins (Muriel George), sailor on leave Tom Sturry (Frank Lawton) and mother/daughter of the manor house, Nora (Valerie Taylor) and Mrs Fraser (Marie Lohr). Engagement with these characters help add tension to the film, especially when Nora is the first one to realise that the soldiers are German and she and her mother are the ones who uncover the treachery of Oliver Wilsford. Another main player is George (Harry Fowler) a boy who risks his life to get the message out.

In an era of propaganda the Germans are, of course, portrayed as brutes willing to murder a priest in cold blood but there are two good performances from Basil Sydney as Major Ortler and David Farrar as Lieutenant Jung. There are also many memorable incidents within the film, notably Mrs Phillips's act of resistance, Nora's final confrontation with Wilsford and Mrs Fraser's act of heroism when faced with a grenade.

I do, however, have a few criticisms. The framing technique, using the church warden at the beginning and end of the film to say that Germans are buried in the village, rather dilutes the effect of what could've been a very effective revelation during the story itself. I'd imagine this had propaganda considerations but it is a shame that more tension wasn't drawn from the aspect. Equally, I felt slightly cheated at the end with the speed in which the rescue was dispatched before the church warden finishes his tale. I would rather have had a few minutes of calm for the villagers to reunite and come to terms with their losses. As it is, Nora's big moment is not even mentioned by other characters and this feels like a rather large omission: instead of the villagers having a moment to comprehend the betrayal of one of their own, it's brushed over to be dealt with off-screen. While I understand that the producers wanted to finish on a note of triumph, it seems a little harsh to the viewers who have spent time hoping these characters would survive.

Nevertheless, this is an excellent film. Watch out for an appearance by a young Thora Hird armed with a gun!

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