Screenwriters: Stephen Poliakoff
Starring: Romola Garai (interview), Bill Nighy, Julie Christie, David Tennant, Juno Temple, Eddie Redmayne, Asier Newman, Christopher Lee, Charlie Cox, Hugh Bonneville, Jenny Agutter, Jeremy Northam
Running Time: 129 mins
Stephen Poliakoff's lavishly-mounted BBC TV dramas have turned him into something of a national treasure, so it's perhaps easy to forget that he made his name as a moviemaker with considerable talent. Glorious 39, his first cinema release since 1997's Food Of Love, has many of the Poliakoff hallmarks - the starry ensemble cast, the classy production values, the themes of family turmoil. What a shame then that his comeback doesn't cut the mustard. Trapped in a perilous zone between TV and cinema, this wartime conspiracy thriller ploughs through an improbable plot with all the urgency of a snail going through wet concrete.
The story concerns the Keyes family, a stiff-upper-lip clan in the British aristocracy headed by Bill Nighy's politician Alexander. It's the summer of 1939 and Britain is soon to declare war on Adolf Hitler's Germany. At a Keyes birthday party, young politician Hector (played with enthusiasm by Doctor Who's David Tennant) laments the Conservative government's appeasement policy. He believes the only way to stop the spread of Nazism is with military force. Soon, he's found dead. Anne Keyes (Garai), the adopted daughter of the family and an aspiring actress, uncovers an LP with a recording of Hector furiously screaming at someone. The vinyl changes hands, first to Anne's confidant Gilbert (Bonneville), then her lover Lawrence (Cox). When both bite the dust, Anne gets drawn into a conspiracy that could have huge global repercussions.
For all Poliakoff's grace and elegance in direction, his morality play commits the cardinal sin for a thriller by not being very exciting. It feels strangely out of its time, like a lost vintage from the '40s that just happens to have been discovered now. Glorious's underlying ideas - rooted in historical fact - are promising but never quite intertwine with the extrapolated murder-mystery elements. It also doesn't help that the dialogue is over-written and expository, with characters hammering home the same points to make the themes clear. By the time the historical context has been set up, all momentum has ground to a halt and the abrupt switch from period family drama to suspense thriller can't get it started again. There's also needless wraparound framing scenes that connect the story to the present, bringing to mind Joe Wright's superior Atonement.
Glorious 39 isn't fast-moving or gripping enough to attract a wide audience, but it'll likely find a place in the GCSE history classroom as teachers weigh up the pros and cons of appeasement and how some members of the ruling classes were desperate to avoid war in an act of self-preservation. Despite its languidness and dated feel there's a turn of note from lead Garai. The film rests on her shoulders and - though she doesn't quite have the fieriness of a young Kate Winslet, the actress Poliakoff has compared her to - there's a resoluteness and determination in her performance that'll lead to more film work.
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