19 March 2012

This classily produced ‘what-if’ WWII story examines life in a small and isolated Welsh valley, where D-Day has failed and the Nazi invasion ofBritainhas begun. This presence of menace is reflected right from the offset, creating a lasting sub-surface tension which director Amit Gupta cultivates throughout the film.

With news spreading that the Nazis have takenLondonand are advancing north, the entire population of men in the valley mysteriously disappear overnight to join the resistance. Shots of the invasion and executions of straggling bands of resistance fighters are coolly dealt with by Gupta, which only adds to the sinister feel. This is suddenly and powerfully countered by the peaceful scenes of the Welsh valley, where the remaining wives and girlfriends – feeling more than a little betrayed by their menfolk – have been left to tend the farms and maintain the upkeep of the village.

When German Captain Albrecht arrives with a group of soldiers to establish an observation post, they are greeted by the steely gazes and obstinate attitudes of the hardy Welsh women. Farm wives Sarah (Andrea Riseborough) and Maggie (Sharon Morgan) are forced to live in close proximity to their German occupiers, but damned if they will do so with smiles on their faces. However, as winter rolls in and work becomes too arduous for them, they come to rely on the soldiers, who quickly ditch their uniforms for farm-wear and get stuck in.

It soon becomes clear that Captain Albrecht, played with great subtlety and sensitivity by Tom Wlaschiha, has seen enough action for one war. He makes the decision for him and his men to hide out in the valley and ride out the war as farmers, concealed from the advancing Gestapo. So begins the awkward relationship between Albrecht and Sarah. Albrecht is imposing, handsome, and disarmingly nice for a Nazi invader. Sarah is coy, untrusting, and missing her husband. But such is the skill of Gupta’s slow-burn character development that, as the film progresses, these two personalities are drawn together to a point where the audience is shaking the screen, willing them to seal the deal.

This is not a straightforward love story, however, and the bond that develops between Albrecht and Sarah is uneasy. Her daydreams turn from thoughts of her husband to visions of lying next to Albrecht. This causes a conflict demonstrative of the dichotomy which must face native civilians confronting an occupying army throughout history. They learn to co-exist, but resent themselves for doing so. Such is Sarah’s problem.

Riseborough’s Sarah is an engaging character to whom the audience is drawn. The performance, like the film, is understated and believable. Hers is the story we want to follow, and attempts to develop a sub-plot suffer at the strength of her character’s attraction.

The dubious portrayal of British rebels as selfish cowards and Nazi invaders as endearing gentlemen is perhaps one of the few negatives of the film. But as this is a parallel reality, who is to say that this characterisation is not a real possibility? Indeed, the film purposefully poses the questions: are these Nazi occupiers, or simply war-weary German men, and where is the line drawn between the two? Is seeing the humanity in people who are potentially denying you your freedom an act of betrayal, even treason?

This film has not received the press attention it deserves. I highly recommend it, and strongly wish it the cult status it merits.