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Glorious 39

August 30, 2010

Glorious 39 (2009)
Director: Stephen Poliakoff
Actors: Romola Garai, Bill Nighy, Eddie Redmayne

Synopsis: Glorious (Romola Garai) – an adopted daughter to an upper-class British family – slowly uncovers a sinister plot regarding British involvement in WW2.

Review: On paper, the ingredients for this British drama set on the eve of the Second World War are impeccable. The film is written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff – one of Britain’s most interesting television and cinematic voices, the cast is a starry ‘who’s who’ of British thespian talent, there are some glorious heritage locations and period costumes, and the thriller narrative has a clever hook surrounding Britain’s conflicted political position on the cusp of the war. Alas, cinema isn’t played out on paper, and after a taut opening half-hour – featuring probably the best thing about the film, the present-day coda with Christopher Lee and Corin Redgrave as portentous cousins –  the film slips into an increasingly silly and trivial set of contrivances. Chief among Poliakoff’s errors are in overdosing on the period detail, and in leadenly making the film a homage to Hitchcock’s British thrillers of the 1930s – The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes et al. He even introduces a Hitchcock-style appearance from a portly man on a bicycle, during a supposedly tense moment in the plot. That plot is simply too absurd and lurches suddenly from one unbelievable revelation (the government are killing those politically opposed to peace with the Germans) to another (Romola Garai’s heroine slowly realises that her adopted upper-crust family are part of the villainous conspiracy). If Poliakoff had honoured the promising raw materials, and trusted the intelligence of his audience, he could have fashioned a much-more meaningful treatise on the ideas he pays lip service to such as the political situation in Britain in 1939, familial history, and the endangerment of a certain type of traditional British aristocratic life. (August 2010)

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