Tuesday, September 2, 2008

British World War II movies

Last night, TCM showed the 1943 movie Millions Like Us for the first time. I had never seen the movie before, and it's not available on DVD, so there was no way I could recommend it. It's a British movie about a woman drafted into the country's World War II era aircraft manufacturing industry, who falls in love with an airman. The closest Hollywood equivalent I can think of is something like <Since You Went Away, except that Millions Like Us is much less glossy and polished. Of course, life in wartime Britain wasn't so glossy and polished: to paraphrase a common refrain of the time, didn't Hollywood know there was a war on?

At any rate, watching Millions Like Us got me to thinking about British cinema's movies about World War II in general. They generally have a much different sensibility than Hollywood films on the same subject, which is understandable considering that the war affected the UK more more directly than it did the US. Even the movies about Britain's World War II heroes have an understated quality about them, a trait in evidence in the wonderful 1958 movie Carve Her Name With Pride.

Carve Her Name With Pride tells the more or less true story of Violette Szabo (née Bushnell; played by Virginia McKenna), a young woman born of an English father and French mother. When World War II breaks out, she does her part by joining the nursing corps, eventually meeting a member of the French resistance. They fall in love, marry, and have a child together. Sadly, though, he gets killed in North Africa, and Violette, being an excellent French speaker, is asked by British Special Operations to become a spy for them and carry out missions in France.

Despite having a child who has lost her father, Violette decides that the war is more important, and takes up more than one mission in France. It's here that the Britishness of the movie comes to the fore, as the spy work is much less glamorous than what we'd see in a Hollywood feature. Indeed, Carve Her Name With Pride is much more a biography than an adventure movie. Despite there being relatively less action than in an American movie, it's still very good, with McKenna doing an outstanding job. I had never heard of Carve Her Name With Pride until TCM showed it about 18 months ago, and am pleased to see that it has since gotten a DVD release.

There's quite a bit of information about the real-life Violette Szabo, including a museum dedicated to her, and a tribute from her daughter Tania.

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