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Glorious 39

Read our interview with Poliakoff here

A political yarn – sometimes creepy, sometimes daft – in the Hitchcockian vein, TV dramatist-playwright Stephen Poliakoff’s first film for cinema in a decade is a claustrophobic drama relating to appeasement and the aristocracy in 1939. Poliakoff channels a high-level conspiracy, based on fact, through one high-living family, of which Bill Nighy’s Alexander is the calm, unreadable patriarch and Romola Garai’s Anne is the eldest but adopted sibling.

Poliakoff places a game Garai in the paranoid centre of the action: a bit like Margaret Lockwood in ‘The Lady Vanishes’ or Cary Grant  in ‘North by Northwest’, she appears in every scene bar a modern-day framing device that sadly dilutes some of the film’s more opaque elements. As Anne stumbles upon some dastardly goings-on, we see everything through her eyes so that you wonder whether she’s a victim or just untrustworthy. Poliakoff’s heightened dialogue and his actors’ arch delivery are an acquired taste, but somehow they mostly suit the sense of a nightmare enveloping Anne. If only the plotting were more convincing and the prologue and epilogue less distracting.

Read our interview with Poliakoff here

Release details

Rated: 12A
Release date: Friday November 20 2009
Duration: 125 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Stephen Poliakoff
Screenwriter: Stephen Poliakoff
Cast: Romola Garai
Bill Nighy
Eddie Redmayne
Julie Christie

Average User Rating

1.9 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:0
  • 4 star:2
  • 3 star:3
  • 2 star:2
  • 1 star:8
LiveReviews|15
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Peter Berman
1 of 1 found helpful

OK, so perhaps the plot was more obvious to the viewer than to the heroine but this was filmed and acted superbly. Very British, very restrained and in true Poliakoff style. The role of the father (excellently played by Bill Nighy) was suspicious but never quite certain. Romola Garai was tremendous.

Gary A

This film almost got a 4/5 but probably for all the wrong reasons.  I like the film.  It was extraordinarily well-cast.  For about the first 80% of the film, the acting was first-rate.  It's hard to go wrong when you have a cast the likes of Romola Garai, Bill Nighy, Julie Christie, Juno Temple, Eddie Redmayne, Hugh Bonneville, Jenny Agutter, and Jeremy Northam.  Many are playing against type, but are doing so very convincingly.  The film gave me some insight into the policy of Appeasement in Britain just prior to World War II.  I had no idea that the British aristocracy sank to the levels it did to prevent any re-playing of World War I.  Strangely, not unlike what happened in the USA before and during Vietnam.  They did not want another war and would do whatever was necessary to stop it from happening.   But somewhere about 3/4 of the way through the film, something(s) went awry.  The fact that Anne (Garai's character) was adopted from a Romany family in no way explains why she suddenly goes off the deep end and we are to believe she is preparing to betray (how is never mentioned) her British family because she 'has bad blood'.I get that Bill Nighy's Alexander is phobic about entering another war, but this almost convinces us that he has to confront it alone.  Garai, Redmayne and Temple age from adolescents to spy-age adults in one summer;  all 3 of them are excellent as they can be in impossible situations.  But the aspect of spy-thriller manages to hold itself together, if only by a thread, by the sheer force of the characterizations this magnificent cast manages to build. Julie Christie is underused but so is Jeremy Northam, so we have no real idea of what (or whom) Nighy is playing against.  Maybe neither of them.  We have no idea if British society self-destructs and descends into the pit of hell; Nighy, Redmayne, Temple and Christie eventually kidnap Garai to 'save her from herself' (again, HOW eludes us)... and her OCD mother who maintains her garden to the point beyond obsession decides to free her daughter by leaving her a pair of impossible men's shoes so she can run/stumble away. Then the plot just stops.  Its falls apart.  We rejoin the family again some 20 years later, when the children have grown (again), most others have died, the war is of course over, and we have an odd reunion of Anne (now played by a much older actress and the two most juvenile characters to appear at the beginning and middle of the film with very little purpose. At the end, (spoiler!) Anne Keyes (Garai's) character's family want to meet the two juveniles, who have aged into their 70s, merely to meet them and say 'hello.'  They are, after all, 'family.'  I just don't get it.  Did they run out of money?  It was truly a lame ending for what might have been a thrilling plot that took 40 minutes too long to play out, long after any of us had ceased to care.

Robert

I found the movie enjoyable, in the vein of Hitchcock or Twilight Zone, not believable, but it kept me guessing as to whether Anne was psychotic or truly a victim. The ending was disappointingly lame, however. overall I liked the movie as a hyperbolic view of the extreme lengths people will go to to protect a privileged way of life when they become fearful of losing it.

Joe Frances

This movie is so absurd as to ultimately cause one to shake his head in disbelief that such talent was wasted on this piece of trash. Maybe somebody could and will make an interesting film on the Chamberlain appeasement policy, and the way it split Britain. Maybe there is the germ of story in this, but the idea of the aristocracy and the appeasement squad killing off opposition is utter nonsense. Yes, they tried to get Churchill run out of Parliament, and they were so the great dirty tricksters, but they way the story is told here is without a shred of historic truth and fails miserably as drama. Maybe it's make believe melodrama, ok, but it is crap dressed up like steak. Please don't waste your time.

Bonnie M

As an American, it was interesting to see the rationale of some of the British upper classes in backing Chamberlain's appeasement policy. Unfortunately, the melodrama of the film's plot and dialogue were really hard to take, including the stomach-churning scenes with evacuees taking their animals to be put down that presaged the atrocities that would shortly take place on the continent . There were also a lot of Hitchcockian references that were too heavy-handed to be carried by the negligiblle script.....I did appreciate the beautiful construction of the film--you Brits have the best filming techniques by far!! I can't say I enjoyed the film, but it showed this viewer a side to the pre-war mentality of the British "ruling class" that is not often shown in America (along with the US reluctance to join WW2 as well)

manfred

I quite enjoyed it. Far better than some of the dismissive comments here. Poliakoff always makes something worth watching.

DaveB

Have just watched this on TV but felt compelled to comment. This was beautifully filmed and at great expense, using public money I imagine. It was also one of the stupidest films I`ve ever sat through. The plot was weak to the point of incredulity. It was so full of holes it would have made an Emmental cheese blush. Some of the bizarre set pieces were so jarringly tasteless and extended we started talking amongst ourselves. The Actors are not to blame but Poliakoff and his team need to look at themselves and ask Are we insulting the intelligence of our audience? Complete Rubbish

PaulN

I have never heard such bad dialogue in my entire life! What a waste of a Sunday. I would give it no stars if I could.

Loulou

I like most of the actors here and for the most part it was exciting and enjoyable but the ending let it down. It just kind of petered out ...

JoeG

Top hole! The family patriarch seems a sound enough cove at first but I pretty soon rumbled him - they'd cast that Nighy blighter and he always plays double dealing rotters, what what! Seriously, this is like a pantomime version of The Constant Gardener with dialogue written by an eleven year old. It's actually quite funny but we're laughing at the movie, not with it. Recommended.

confused filmgoer

This was one of the most ridiculous films I have ever seen - I left the cinema completely confused: could it really have been as bad as it seemed? I spent ages trying to work out if it was in some way allegorical or symbolic or something, because there had to have been more to it than what appeared on screen, surely??? It did look good, though.

John L

The story synopsis and great cast promised a good film, but seldom have I been so disappointed. Ludicrous plot, banal dialogue and (mostly) dire acting. Agreeable country houses, vintage cars and frocks etc did little to alleviate a monumental load of tosh.

Powlo

Well-filmed - in terms of period garb, settings, lighting etc. - shame about the script. Plot meandered from plodding, through predictable, to frankly kudicrous. Bill Nighy being made to utter some excruciatingly stilted lines is a waste of talent. Pro-Nazi conspirators could conceivably have exercised that sinister ruthlessness but coservative, traditionalist appeasers - NO. Credulity was stretched to breaking point - my companion was laughing at some of the more ridiculous dialogue and she wasn't alone... Shame really, the historical background offers rich possibilities and deserved better.

Simon Deeley

I don't know if this film inspired me or took any remaining ambition of mine to be a filmmaker away, because on one hand it was so bad that if this can get on the big screen any thing I could do would as well. But at the same time the reality is whether you have got the names ,production clout etc that gets a film on screen. The people giving funding to these films seemed to have stopped reading scripts to see if it actually makes sense, whether the characters are believable and if we the audience will care about them. For me a supposedly great cast were made to look terrible with worst dialogue I have heard in years. I give this film a single star under protest. If you want to see great british film this year , see Fishtank please.

AlexB

Beautiful film, well acted by a very strong British cast with actors both old and new. Proffered much and delivered little.