Most helpful critical review
Not without faults, but amazing work considering its genesis.
on July 4, 2014
This is a film - a docudrama of sorts - built around the premise of what life would have been like in Nazi-occupied Britain. The film is set in 1944/1945, four years after the successful invasion. Britain is ruled by a fascist-regime that is very similar to Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists from the 1930s. The ongoing war in Russia has depleted the occupying German forces to units that support or maybe are augmented by Britons. The USA has entered the war against Germany and is regularly attacking the UK , as well as supporting guerilla groups. By and large, the situation is similar to what actually occurred in France and was portrayed in Len Deighton's historical crime novel `SS-GB;' that is to say, most of the population resent the occupation but do little or nothing about it.
The story is told from the viewpoint of Pauline Murray, a nurse who is both naïve and apolitical. Driven from her village by soldiers seeking to create a free-fire zone and an attack by partisans, Murray ends up staying with a friend in London while seeking employment. Eventually, she a position with Immediate Action (IA), the British fascist entity that administers the occupation. Through a series of vignettes, we see Pauline embrace the IA because it brings order, then begin to doubt her decision after her actions lead to the arrest of some friends who were harboring a wounded partisan. She is sent from London to a clinic in the country where - instead of treating foreign workers (read slaves) with tuberculosis - she is involved in a euthanasia program. She tries to leave but is arrested. While being taken to London for trial and presumably execution, the train is attacked by a mixed group of partisans and US and Free British troops.
While tending wounded of all sides, a surrender of German and collaborator forces is effected. Unknown to her - and with the apparent approval of the regular military - the prisoners are executed by the partisans in a scene similar to one at the start of the film.
It Happened Here was released in 1964 after eight years of production. It was made by two teenagers, Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo, with a cast of amateurs. It was not received with anything like universal aclaim. In fact, it was shunned by many because two issues. Its radical, at least for the time, view the public reaction to an occupied Britain would be a generally apathetic acceptance did not sit well with the public. However, in retrospect, it's quite likely, maybe certain, this is what would have happened. This scenario is what took place on the Channel Islands, part of the UK that was invaded and occupied during the war.
But, a far more explosive reaction came from a relatively short segment in which some of the new IA recruits ask questions of two senior IA members regarding their views on capitalism and Jews. The comments made by these two are typical of what one might expect from anti-Semites. The surprise is that the two men were really British neo-fascists! But, the uproar over their comments came from quaretrs claiming the film was anti-Semitic. My opinion of the segment was - especially in view of the stupidity of the speakers and their mouthing of rhetoric - that it validated the horror of what Nazism was.
So, from a premise point of view, the movie is excellent.
From the production side, the film is less successful. Early on, there is a little too much of `film school' shots, such as close-ups of eyes transitioning to pan-outs to signify terror and tension This may be attributable to the youth of the two involved as this sort of stuff is gone in the latter stages of the film. The sound quality is not the best in the first half either. It's hard to understand what is being said. As the problem disappears in the back-end of the film, it may be the case that better equipment wwas being used.
There's also a bit of story-line continuity issue making the last twenty minutes of the film seem jumpy and truncated. It's never made clear if the US/UK solders are a raiding party or an invasion force. Nor is it clear if the surrender is local and nationwide. There are a series of radio broadcasts, attributed to a `Free Britain' broadcasting station that implies it is the latter, however. Perhaps more time should have been spent on this closing, particularly as the bounding the movie with two mass-killings by the opposing sides left a "meet the new boss, same as the old boss" feel.
After having heard about this moves for decades, I'm glad I got to see it. Though not without faults, it's amazing work considering its genesis.