Bri­tain be­fore bat­tle

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews -

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.

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