This is England
After spending a decade making critically-acclaimed TV dramas including Friends & Crocodiles and A Real Summer, writer/director Stephen Poliakoff returns to the big screen with sumptuous thriller Glorious 39.
It’s set in the summer of 1939, with the English countryside is bathed in golden sunshine. At their country home in Norfolk, the Keyes family are enjoying a break from London and siblings Anne (Romola Garai), Ralph (Eddie Redmayne) and Celia (Juno Temple) are having a fine old time romping about the garden. But when their MP father Alexander (Bill Nighy) is called back to London to deal with the onset of World War II, their innocent lifestyle begins to fall apart. And when Anne begins to realise that all is not as she believed, it leads her down a path that will change her life forever.
Exquisitely shot, Glorious 39 captures the vivid glamour of the Thirties – all red lipstick and flaxen curls – juxtaposed with a narrative that gets ever darker the closer England comes to tipping over into war. It’s not just the approaching conflict that’s casting a shadow over Anne’s life, however, and Poliakoff has woven a tale of delicious intrigue that strikes right at the heart of traditional family values. It’s a very personal story, albeit one set against a backdrop of international tumult, and the cast work well together to spin this web of secrets and lies. Garai is exceptional as the increasingly despairing Anne, her journey from beautiful ingenue to shattered realist is, both physically and mentally, believable and compelling. She is ably supported by Redmayne, Temple and Nighy as the seemingly-perfect family, while there are great cameos from the likes of Julie Christie, David Tennant and Christopher Lee.
At just over two hours, however, it’s fair to say that Glorious 39 could have done with some deft editing, as there are some sequences that do overstay their welcome; the ending for example is less climactic and more rambling. Disappointing, too, is that Jenny Agutter and Jeremy Northam, as Anne’s implicit mother and a shawy cabinet minister respectively, are woefully underused and become one-dimensional bit players despite their central importance to Anne’s life and experiences. But, when taken as a whole, Poliakoff’s film is a watchable and involving thriller which effectively uses its setting to tell a menacing story of a family – and a country – being torn apart by an all-encompassing war. 3 stars
Unavailable for review, but there’s a commentary from writer/director Stephen Poliakoff and lead actress Romola Garai plus a making of, interview with Poliakoff and look at the London Premiere
Stars Ramola Garai, Bill Nighy, Juno Temple
Director Stephen Poliakoff
Distributor Momentum Pictures
Released March 29
This review was originally published at movieScopemag.com