Sunday 25 July 2010

Glorious 39 (2009)

Has Stephen Poliakoff lost his mind in recent years? The acclaimed writer-director’s TV dramas since the mid-noughties - Friends and Crocodiles (2005), Gideon’s Daughter (2005), Joe’s Palace (2007) and Capturing Mary (2007) - have been disappointing at best and ludicrous at worst. But with Glorious 39 (2009), his first feature film since 1987’s Food of Love, Poliakoff plumbs new depths of ineptitude. The movie - about a young English actress called Anne (Romola Garai) who discovers, in the summer of 1939, evidence of a plot to appease the Nazis and to silence anyone who objects - starts intriguingly enough, but very quickly leaves any vestige of common sense behind. Poliakoff merrily rips off everything from Notorious (1946) to Rosemary’s Baby (1968) in his forced attempts to get his heroine into hot water and generate some suspense; as a campy, Shining Through (1992)-esque romp, the film certainly has potential. But the director can’t resist giving viewers an unsubtle lecture on the dangers of appeasement throughout and a fatal air of self-importance constantly pervades the movie. The results are truly embarrassing: a dire mixture of incompetence and self-righteousness. Poliakoff’s writing is often appallingly clunky (“It’s not always a good place to go, the past” states a character early on - just before the flashbacks begin), and, as a director, his idea of making the piece cinematic is to incorporate a few ostentatious swooping camera movements and to shoot the actors from a distance of about twenty feet. Meanwhile, a stellar cast including Jeremy Northam, Julie Christie and Bill Nighy compete to see who can give the worst performance (Nighy wins out, by about a mile); Jenny Agutter is given nothing to do but garden. (Though given the quality of the dialogue, she can probably count herself lucky.) Garai is game, as always, but Poliakoff’s loopy plot developments soon scupper any sense of involvement or connection with her character. I think what I hated most about Glorious 39 was Poliakoff’s decision to make Anne an adopted (gypsy!) daughter to upper-class parents; it makes her discovery of the nefarious activities that the family are involved in so damned convenient. But really this is just one of many blunders in a risible, smug and profoundly irritating film.