Britain before battle
FOR THE last decade or so, Stephen Poliakoff has been dividing TV viewers with a series of films that are either, complex knots of memory and deceit or deranged melodramas acted out by unconvincingly manipulated puppets. Now he is set to baffle cinemagoers with a bizarre amalgam of heritage cinema and rollicking penny dreadful.
Glorious 39 begins soberly enough with a group of toffs gathering together in the summer before the outbreak of the second World War. Over an alfresco dinner, a debate breaks out about the politics of appeasement.
Sometime later, one of the guests, an eloquent MP (David Tennant), is found dead in his apartment. Was it really suicide, or was he killed for opposing efforts to make peace with Hitler? It’s down to plucky Romal Garai, adopted daughter of Bill Nighy’s wry plutocrat, to disentangle the various conspiracies.
At several points in Glorious 39, a fat man trundles past the action on a bicycle. It is surely no accident that he looks like Alfred Hitchcock, but, though the picture does owe something to The 39 Steps, Hitch would surely have never allowed so many genres to come together in such a cluttered heap.
The opening scenes, during which Garai and her pals patrol daddy’s grounds, has the ginger-beer wholesomeness of the Famous Five. A subplot involving surveillance by gramophone record seems to have been beamed backwards from the Cold War. Another sequence, detailing the putting to sleep of London’s pets, speaks of dutiful research, but doesn’t really have anything to do with the main action.
For all that, you couldn’t say that Glorious 39 doesn’t pass the time pleasingly. Garai is well suited to the role of debutante sleuth and, despite its uneven tone, the story clatters to its melodramatic conclusion with admirable haste. If nothing else, you have to forgive the film some of its flaws for its inclusion of a very good, very subtle joke about (I think) the late Edward Kennedy.
Not really a good film, then, but definitely good fun.