Glorious 39

Reviewed By brianorndorf
Posted 02/05/11 03:31:57

"Nazis Schmatzis"
3 stars (Average)

"Glorious 39" has the proper ambition and a gifted cast to transform into a spellbinding British WWII thriller, working out a stimulating story of paranoia and bleak family ties. It's maddening to find the film stubbornly refuse to attempt soaring beats of intrigue, preferring to remain in a melodramatic coma while stupendous locations and a range of expressive faces do all the heavy lifting. Despite a few convincing turns, the feature is disappointingly winded, eventually going off on a few needless tangents that derail the whole production.

In the summer of 1939, adoptive daughter Anne (Romola Garai) has grown up to be the star of her family, working as a film actress while the world heads towards war. Under the protective wing of her politician father (Bill Nighy), Anne is privy to the passions of those who wish to repel Hitler by force, while secret service agents (including Jeremy Northam) study these declarations carefully, protecting a growing aristocratic society that would rather give in to German evil and protect what's left of Europe. Happening upon recorded conversations disguised as common dance albums, Anne is faced with confusing realities about her loved ones, looking to navigate her life as peacefully as she can while digging further for answers.

Gifted a satisfactory budget to breathe life into his screenplay, celebrated director Stephen Poliakoff has been afforded a rare opportunity to stage a wartime drama with inviting scope, taking viewers into rural England to explore the estates and the environments of families desiring to keep peace while political chaos mounts. "Glorious 39" is a measured snapshot of stiff-upper-lipped anxiety, elegantly crafted at times, with a real interest in creating a constricting atmosphere of suspense as Anne probes deeper into the source of the recordings, finding help and hindrance as she pieces the clues together.

I was right there with the picture during the opening act, treasuring the filmmaker's sense of timing and eye for locations, which juxtapose the luxurious isolation of the family estates with dank basement interiors home to spies and assorted pre-war planning. There's a feeling of escalating risk that's communicated superbly by the cinematography, which drinks in troubled looks and knowing glances, boxing in Anne to surprising effect.

The tense effort is accentuated by the cast, with Nighy, Northham, Julie Christie (as Anne's grandmother), Eddie Redmayne, Juno Temple, Hugh Bonneville, Jenny Agutter, and Christopher Lee (playing an older version of an adolescent character in the film's bookend sequences) submitting accomplished work as the possibly toxic clan. Though only required to spin obvious Brit wartime cliches, the cast makes the material matter where the director can't always find a way. Garai is exceptional as Anne, finding a substantial note of concealed concern to play as the character looks to keep up appearances while stumbling across the dead bodies of those she trusts the most. It's an impressive lead performance from the often underutilized actress.

"Glorious 39" takes a massive hit in both pace and significance in the final act, with Poliakoff writing the mystery into a corner he can't get out of. It's a muddled, overly excitable conclusion that reaches for a deafening emotional pitch the rest of the picture hasn't properly worked for. In choosing muffled hysteria for the duration of the feature over proper theatrics, the resolution feels undisciplined and alien, leaving viewers with little to savor after such a tempting, patient build up.

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