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On the eve of World War II, a young woman stumbles across evidence of a sinister Nazi appeasement plot. As her close friends begin to die in suspicious circumstances, she finds her own life in danger from an increasingly menacing and powerful enemy.
For more about Glorious 39 and the Glorious 39 Blu-ray release, see Glorious 39 Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on February 13, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: Stephen Poliakoff
Writer: Stephen Poliakoff
Starring: Romola Garai, Eddie Redmayne, Bill Nighy, Julie Christie, Juno Temple, Jenny Agutter
» See full cast & crew
Glorious 39 Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, February 13, 2011
It's easy to look back with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight at British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's famous announcement that he had secured "peace for our time" after having met with Hitler in late 1938. For a brief few months, England was lulled into the belief it had miraculously escaped from the maelstrom which was already obviously about to engulf mainland Europe. Chamberlain was largely greeted as a conquering (if pacifist and isolationist) hero, and those who argued that England had better wake up and smell the warfare were treated as ill informed and brutish dissidents. In Glorious 39, this perhaps obscure chapter of now semi-ancient British history is wrapped up in a quasi-Hitchcockian thriller that actually ends up playing more like a mystery from Merchant Ivory or a sort of sibling to Atonement, another film which featured Glorious 39's ravishing Romola Garai. Glorious 39 is deliberately slow—too slow in fact to ever elicit the steady flow of paranoia and thrills it seeks to—but it manages to recreate a fascinating era in British politics that ended up having huge repercussions not just for the island nation, but for the course of World War II as a whole.
Glorious 39 has a perhaps too lethargic start, with a brief framing device wherein a young lad in present day London comes to visit elderly cousins (cameos by Christopher Lee and Corin Redgrave) asking about what happened to his long ago and evidently forgotten Aunt Anne. We then shift, with a somewhat ominous warning from Lee's character about how it can be dangerous to dredge up the past, to the "glorious" summer of 1939. Anne Keyes (Garai) is the adopted eldest daughter of soft spoken but highly influential Conservative Parliament member Alexander Keyes (Bill Nighy) and his some dotty, garden-obsessed wife (Jenny Agutter). Anne's siblings are the natural born children of the Keyes', including Celia (Juno Temple) and Ralph (Eddie Redmayne). At a dinner party for Alexander, firebrand MP Hector (David Tennant), vehemently anti-appeasement, interrupts the polite, upper crust British dinner conversation with an impassioned speech about the dangers Britain is facing if it continues towing the Chamberlain line. Also at the dinner party is shadowy government worker Joseph Balcombe (Jeremy Northam), who glowers menacingly from a distance.
A series of odd, perhaps unconnected, events starts to make Anne, a fledgling actress just securing her first minor film roles in the British movie industry, question if Balcombe is not just menacing, but outright dangerous. Hector turns up dead, supposedly a suicide. Almost simultaneously, Anne discovers a hidden trove of 78 rpm recordings, ostensibly a foxtrot collection, which in fact turns out to be a series of secretly recorded meetings and phone conversations made by pro-appeasement forces about and involving anti-appeasement "radicals," including Hector. Anne doesn't initially realize the importance of the recordings, and enlists the aid of a fellow film actor (Hugh Bonneville) to help her determine what exactly is going on, until that person also turns up dead, again supposedly having committed suicide.
It's one of Glorious 39's potentially fatal missteps that Anne finds herself in a sort of Rosemary's Baby predicament, where no one believes what she's uncovering, or if they do, they quickly meet their own demise. Also potentially troublesome is the film's lugubrious pace, which is perhaps too stately and restrained for its supposed political thriller ambience. However, against some formidable odds, director Stephen Poliakoff weaves an often compelling and unsettling account of British nobility at its most nefarious and self-serving. And in fact when one objectively looks at even Hitch's masterpieces, it can't be denied that the Master himself often took his own well measured time in doling out his thrills. Watching a film like Vertigo can be an excercise in patience, but it also becomes an almost hallucinatory, dreamlike experience. If Glorious 39 certainly never quite rises to those heights, it at least establishes a sort of lazy summer nap quality that is perfectly in tune with its characters' resolute refusal to recognize the danger the whole world is facing.
The comparison to Rosemary's Baby is bizarrely apt for this film which is on its face a mannered historical drama. Anne is surrounded by duplicitous people at every turn, all with the same shadowy motive, and she soon finds herself fighting the good fight alone. She has her own version of Rosemary Baby's "well meaning" but ultimately sinister neighbor, Minnie, albeit in the somewhat less outright evil ambience of her steely Aunt Elizabeth, played by Julie Christie. If Rosemary's main deceiver was her husband Guy, in this film Anne ups the ante by being led astray by her ostensibly protective father and her too-jolly brother, who delights in calling Anne herself "Glorious." By the time Anne lies imprisoned in a palatial locked room, drugged "for her own good," the comparisons to Rosemary's Baby, as odd as they may seem, become unavoidable, and in a way a little problematic for this film which wants to be as much a cultural and class exposé as it does a political thriller.
But Atonement also is lying just beneath the surface of Glorious 39, and not just because of the involvement of Garai. A childhood peccadillo turns out to be the hinge on which all sorts of machinations turn in this film, and the rapprochement of a wronged victim with the one doing the wronging is also part and parcel of Poliakoff's outing, though it isn't handled as artfully or with as much finality as it is in Atonement. Glorious 39 also falters in its closing moments, both in its flashback element, which has a completely nonsensical climax, and in the slow re-introduction of the present day timeframe, which adds to a sort of disjointed feeling toward the end of the film. There are also a couple of glaring holes in logic throughout Glorious 39, including an unnecessary third murder and the lingering question of why those wanting appeasement are still so nefarious in their methods even after England has officially declared war on Germany.
Still, if you don't demand that Glorious 39 be something it isn't, there's an awful lot here to enjoy. Poliakoff manages to create a just slightly off kilter feeling throughout much of the film, with a couple of good, spooky sequences. Garai is not just a stunning physical presence (she actually looks a lot like a young Dominique Sanda in this film), she also brings a refreshing emotional tenor to her Anne. And what a supporting cast we're offered here, including everyone from the iconic Christie to the always dependable Nighy to a host of younger British actors, all of whom do splendid work. The film is lusciously filmed, including some jaw droppingly beautiful footage of the English countryside and some elegant manor houses, and while really never scary in the traditional sense, Glorious 39 is at least moderately unsettling and has the plus of focusing on a little remembered aspect of British war history.
Glorious 39 Blu-ray, Video Quality
Glorious 39 looks glorious indeed much of the time on Blu-ray, courtesy of an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1. The outdoor location shots which are offered here in abundance are often mesmerizingly gorgeous. Light wafts across golden fields of wheat or a rosy pink sunset extinguishes against a dark green lawn. Colors are splendidly robust and beautifully saturated, and contrast and black levels are spot on. There a couple of issues with this transfer, however. First off, there is some very brief aliasing on things like ornate grilled gates and the like, which unfortunately are fairly common in the Rococo settings of these upper crust British people. Second of all, while grain is intact and very natural looking, in a couple of the more dimly lit shots, it approaches noisy levels that make the image murky and unappealing. But the overall sharpness, clarity and fine detail here are really amazing and makes this easily one of the best Blu-rays yet from E1 (entertainmentone).
Glorious 39 Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are several nicely immersive moments delivered on Glorious 39's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track (a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also included for good measure). Right off the bat, in the dreamlike vision of Anne and her siblings running through the ancient ruins of a British castle, we get wonderfully discrete channel utilization, with Adrian Johnston's elegiac score well mixed into the proceedings. Dialogue is clear and precise, and fidelity throughout the soundtrack is also excellent. There are some nice subtle touches throughout 39 Glorious which help to create a slight feeling of unease while never beating you over the head with something like LFE to amp up the "scare factor." In fact though the film does rely on a couple of quick cuts, we never get huge sound jumps to make the audience startle; instead, it's quieter, almost inaudible, sounds that alert the listener that something unusual is happening around Anne.
Glorious 39 Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Glorious 39 features the following supplements:
Glorious 39 Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Glorious 39 is too long and too slow, but there's still something quite appealing about this film, especially if you're a fan of (as strange as it may sound) Merchant-Ivory, Hitchcock and Atonement. The cast here is aces, and the location photography is often quite sumptuous. If at a bottom line level, the film really doesn't make very much sense, there's still an interesting core premise here and some great performances to help you forget how illogical it all is. Recommended.
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