First things first, this definitely has a Sunday afternoon television feel to it. It would fit perfectly in between Miss Marple and Poirot in your latest copy of Radio Times. Set in Nazi-occupied Jersey during World War II, a story unfolds about Louisa Gould (Jenny Seagrove) a woman whose son has died on the front line. Heartbroken and lost, she takes in young Russian "Bill" (Julian Kostov) who has narrowly escaped the brutal hands of the Germans. What follows is a very by-the-numbers, yet touching, exploration of one woman’s courage and loyalty in the harshest of conditions. As Louisa works to build the young man’s confidence and sociability back up, she also faces threats both from within her own close-knit community and from the imposing occupying forces.
It starts off annoyingly-enough with shrill renditions of war songs being belted out by Louisa and her sisters as they stroll along a beach. A few snide comments are made about the village bike who has hitched her reigns to a German soldier. The line in the sand is drawn, you look after your own and damn whoever comes from outside to try and take England from us. Let’s not mistake this as a Brexit-lovers film though. It’s not. The moment she receives the bad news about her son and welcomes Bill into her home we can see clearly that this is the kind of film we need in Trump’s era. It doesn’t smash its sentimentality over your head but it does give you a few firm whacks with it. Unfortunately it start off far too slowly. Home viewings will almost certainly induce 40 winks. Many times I said to myself, "how many more of these sorts of films can we stomach, isn't it time to look to the future?" Fortunately this, changed as I watched and by the end I was surprisingly won over.
There are several stand-out scenes including a Christmas-day sing-a-long which sees Ronan Keating (yes, really) belting out a Russian folk song. A particularly tense post office scene (yes, really) where a damning piece of post needs to be intercepted before it falls into the wrong hands. A completely unbelievable moment of dystopian serendipity which just beggars belief. And the final scene. The final scene which was absolutely brutal and crushing in its simplicity. Oh, that moment of unbelievable chance – it’s the kind of writing that seems lazy and obvious. I was amazed it made it onto the screen. That is until a Q&A with writer Jenny Lecoat immediately after the film. It appears that the whole story was based on her great-grandmother who indeed lived pretty much every moment we see on screen. Right down to the unbelievable moment. I won’t spoil it, but it involves a train stopping at precisely the right location at precisely the right time.
Seagrove is brilliant in the lead role. Exuding strength and integrity at every turn she steals the show. John Hannah is off to the sidelines in a very cardboard cut-out role, but he is necessary in that he inhibits polar opposite values to his sister. Most surprising is Keating, who shows he can turn his talents to more than just a microphone, although his accent leaves a little to be desired. Bulgarian Kostov has a bright future ahead of him if he makes the right choices. His Russian accent was impeccable (to this untrained ear), even if his deftness for picking up the English language from scratch was a little unrealistic.
So then, we are dealing with a fairly unoriginal story which will appeal to an older audience or those with an interest in war-time domesticity. Released in cinemas to coincide with Mother’s Day, it’ll be a winner with mums all over the country. It’s a bleakly optimistic look at community, goodness and courage. It’s not very great but it’s not bad either. It is Sunday-afternoon good. But for the audience this film is looking to reach I suspect that’s good enough.