31 May 2011

Went the Day Well?

Elizabeth Allan and Thora Hird fight for king and country in Went the Day Well?

The other day I caught an afternoon screening of Went the Day Well? at Film Forum. Based on a Graham Greene story and made by the ever so British Ealing Studios and Brazilian émigré director Alberto Cavalcanti, Went the Day Well? is perhaps one of the greatest examples of a propaganda film ever made by the Allies during the war.

In the film a group of British soldiers on maneuvers arrive in the small hamlet of Bramley End. The villagers welcome them into their homes but soon some odd things are noticed about the soldiers—one marks his sevens in the European style; another has a bar of Viennese chocolate in his bag. Realizing their cover is about to be blown, the soldiers announce their true identities (they are German paratroopers sent ahead of a planned German invasion) and round up the villagers in the local church with the idea of keeping their presence in the village a secret until the invasion occurs. What the Germans don’t count on is the strong determination of the English to fight for England. The villagers organize and attack the Germans with many resulting casualties. 

The most startling aspect of the film is how quickly the women in the village join in the fight. It's rare to see a film from this time period with woman behaving so violently. One woman’s actions were so unexpected that they brought a gasp from the audience when I saw it. 

What makes this film such a great piece of propaganda is that the story is set in 1948 and told in flashback by a local villager who in the beginning points out a gravestone with German names saying, "They wanted England, these Jerries did, and this is the only bit they got." Yet the film came out in 1942 when the idea of victory over Germany was far from realized. I would love to know what English audiences thought of the film at the time. Did it boost their spirits with thoughts of potential victory? Or did it confirm what they already knew, that in a time of crisis good old British resolve will win the day.

Went the Day Well? plays at Film Forum through June 2 but if you can’t make it, do try and get it on DVD. 

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