Went The Day Well? review

Banana Rating: 4 out of 5

Doesn’t every­one love a film where Fritz takes a jolly good past­ing? Okay, so the second world war ended over sixty years ago, but every time the damn saus­age eat­ers beat us at foot­ball, it’s a small com­fort to know that we gave Hitler a swift kick in his one and only testicle.

Of course, it’s not about hat­ing the Ger­mans. No, not really. These days they’re our best friends. And I don’t begrudge any coun­try that gath­ers at the world’s biggest booze fest­ival to cel­eb­rate the finer things in life: big jugs of beer and, erm, big jugs.

For script writers, World War Two Ger­mans are kind of like the microwave ready meal of vil­lainy. Just take some shiny black boots, a grey uni­form, maybe a monocle, and a few choice Ger­man phrases — “Sch­wein­hund!”, “For you Tommy, the war is over!” and “Doc­tor Jones!” — then pop them in your mind’s microwave for a couple of minutes, and there you have it. Min­imum effort, and a right bas­tard of a vil­lain intent on cut­ting a swathe through the land.

And y’know, they don’t even have to be Nazis. They can just look like them. Drop a squad­ron of goons wear­ing black trench coats into any fantasy or sci-fi, and mil­lions of people will imme­di­ately identify them as evil shits, no back story required.

How­ever, Went the Day Well? is slightly different.

Cold war paranoia

A Brit­ish pro­pa­ganda film made in 1942 by Eal­ing Stu­dios, it has Ger­mans dis­guised as Brit­ish sol­diers, trained to act and speak like us in every way, des­cend­ing upon the quiet Eng­lish vil­lage of Bramley End. Their mis­sion: to cre­ate an out­post for a planned Nazi invasion.

It has more in com­mon with the cold war para­noia that came after­wards. Although with much less para­noia. This is Eng­land of the 1940s don’t for­get. Every­one is much more trust­ing, much more polite, and pos­it­ively fall­ing over them­selves to help out any­one of author­ity. In a way, it makes the truth, when it’s finally revealed, all the more heart break­ing and bewil­der­ing for the villagers.

Being pro­pa­ganda, it’s no spoiler if I tell you the Ger­mans don’t suc­ceed in their mis­sion. The first scene of the film even makes this clear, an old guy in a flat cap, suck­ing on the stem of his pipe and talk­ing to cam­era about the Battle of Bramley End, whilst wav­ing an arm cas­u­ally at the grave of the fallen enemy.

No, the main enjoy­ment comes not from the “if” but the “how”. How will the vil­la­gers rumble the German’s game, and when they do, how will they defeat the dirty rot­ten scoundrels?

The psychological cost of violence

The out­come is pretty action packed with cas­u­al­ties on both sides. And whilst much of it is blood­less, and typ­ical of safer World War 2 action adven­ture stor­ies, for a film designed to boost mor­ale in the Brit­ish pub­lic, it’s not afraid of darker ter­rit­ory. The kills that hap­pen at close quar­ters are a good example of this. It’s here that the film focuses on the grim, psy­cho­lo­gical cost of viol­ence: not the per­son on the receiv­ing end, but the per­son pushed to acts bey­ond their nature, the cam­era zoom­ing in on the perpetrator’s face, their eyes bul­ging with hor­ror. There’s a feel­ing that the act will haunt them for the rest of their lives. For the vil­la­gers at any rate. The Ger­mans are far too nasty to care.

If the film has a flaw, it’s that it seems to crash out to the cred­its too quickly at the end. Although I sus­pect it’s less of a flaw, and more to do with my brain which has been pro­grammed with too many eighties action movie finales, where the lead bad guy goes mano-a-mano at the top of a clock tower, before plunging 300 feet to his death. Onto a big spike.

No, Went The Day Well? has made it’s point long before any of that can hap­pen, and audi­ences of the day prob­ably weren’t clam­our­ing for such sil­li­ness, embroiled as they were in the very war depic­ted on-screen.