Category: WWII

Suite Française (Movie Review 2014)

3 Kernels

Currently streaming on Netflix is Suite Française a 2014 movie set in occupied France in 1940. It’s based on a novel written by Irène Némirovsky, a Jewish author, born in the Ukraine but lived and worked in France. Irène died in Auschwitz during the war, but her handwritten manuscript had later been discovered and finally published in 2004. The movie was released in the UK and subsequently premiered in the U.S. only on Lifetime. Thankfully, Netflix picked it up, giving us the opportunity to watch the story unfold.

Michelle Williams plays Lucile Angellier, the wife of a prominent and rich man who is a prisoner of war.  She lives with her mother-in-law, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, who is more intent on collecting the rents from her land tenants than caring about the impending German invasion.  It’s obvious that the relationship between the two is strained.

When the Germans march into their town and settle into homes to carry out their duties, Lucile and the Madame are assigned Lieutenant Bruno von Falk (played by the dreamy Matthias Schoenaerts who apparently learned German for the role). He settles in, behaving more like a polite gentleman rather than an overbearing and cruel occupier. Lucile, though she attempts to stay away from him, becomes intrigued by his personality as their interaction continue. Even though he’s the enemy, he’s a fascinating human being who she discovers is more than a soldier doing his duty. He’s kind, musically inclined, and writes music.

Since he appears to be as intrigued by Lucile, an unspoken admiration builds between the two until a passionate but interrupted moment occurs between them. Unfortunately, war is war, and these two people are on opposite sides of the conflict – the conquered and the defeated. When the war brings her to the decision to take a huge risk on behalf of one of their tenants, it threatens to destroy their love.

The film is well acted. A few scenes show the senseless cruelty and brutality of occupation and the difficult choices the Lieutenant must make in performing his duties. It’s an interesting study, too, in human behavior of the townspeople by the actions they take to stay on the good side of the Germans in implicating others. Loyalties are split. It also raises the question of what would you do in such a situation? Could you fall in love with the enemy?  Would you trust his love while you act treacherousy against his country and cause?

Is there a happy ending? Well, based on the unfortunate situation, love everlasting isn’t in the stars for these two people.  At the end, the narrator states that words of love were never spoken, but it became obvious they were shown by each other’s actions.

Their Finest (Movie 2017)

3 Kernels

With two theaters in town showing this film, I count myself lucky to have seen it.  Unless it’s distributed elsewhere, you could be missing out on a fairly delightful film.  Of course, had I written the ending to this story in any of my books, it would have been thrown against the wall by readers and trolls would have come out of the woodwork, one-starring me for revenge. Thankfully, I did not.

Their Finest is set in 1940 London, while citizens are dodging bombs, dead bodies, and curing everything with a hot cup of tea. Really — tea cures all of the world’s ills for the Brits.  Nevertheless, the citizens who “keep calm and carry on” are looking for uplifting entertainment, which the British Ministry of Information wants to provide.

Starring Gemma Arterton (playing Catrin Cole), who I haven’t seen on screen since she came out of the bathroom wall as Elizabeth Bennett in Lost in Austen, is the leading lady and heroine of the film. She is a writer (got to love those writers!) who is discovered by Sam Claflin (playing Tom Buckley) another screenwriter. She is hired to help write a movie script that glorifies the Dunkirk evacuation based on a semi-true story of two young ladies who take their father’s boat to join in the rescue of stranded soldiers.

Catrin purports to be married to an aspiring artist, living in squalor in east London. She finally lands a job as the screenwriter, while he continues to pursue his career. Unable to fight in the war due to physical reasons, her other half at least helps in the cause, searching for survivors in bombed buildings.

The wonderfully talented Bill Nighy (as Ambrose Hilliard), who you just love to pieces in this role, plays an aging actor who accepts a part in the movie. His humor and attitude are the lighthearted points amidst some the realistic and horrific scenes of dropping bombs in London. You may remember him in I Capture the Castle.

The cast and crew go off to Devon to film the movie, later coming back to London to finish other scenes on set.  Throughout the hours of screenwriting and working together with another writer, the three come up with a great film. In the meantime, Buckley begins to fall in love with Catrin, while her husband is off pursuing his artistic career with his first gallery showing.

Gemma Arterton and Sam Claflin are a good romantic team onscreen, making the audience wonder if or when they would fall in love and how they could be together.  Since I am not writing SPOILER here, I won’t go any further except to say bring your Kleenex.

The critics as a whole have been giving it fresh tomatoes, and the audiences seem to enjoy the film as well. Not many youngsters show up at these types of movies.  I can attest that the moviegoers I sat with were mostly middle-aged or elderly.

The film is based off a novel written by Lissa Evans, first published in 2009 by Doubleday. Another talented writer has been given a film option, while I drool in jealousy.  Excuse me, while I go fetch my copy of her book and throw it against the wall because of the ending. Perhaps it will help me feel better. (Forgive my humor.)  Keep calm and carry on.

Upstairs Downstairs (TV Series 2010-2012)

3 Kernelsupstairs

I watched this series this past weekend, and though some of it seemed familiar, I’m not sure I’ve seen all of the episodes before.  Nevertheless, I was able to enjoy it through fresh eyes unaware of much of the storyline.

Having not seen the original Upstairs Downstairs (the 1971 series set in the years 1903-1930), this version picks up in the mid-1930’s and continues pre-WW2 at the same location of 165 Eaton Place in the Belgravia neighborhood.  The master of the estate is Sir Hallam Holland (as I take a moment to relish the last name) and Lady Agnes who purchases the “ghastly old mausoleum” by cleaning and renovating the run-down interior.

Lady Agnes hires a new staff and Rose Buck (Jean Marsh who played in the 1971 series) returns as the housekeeper.  Much like Downton Abbey, including an opening scene during the credits of the shiny chandelier, the story follows life upstairs and downstairs.  Sir Hallam is a diplomat, and his wife lives to run the household and be a hostess to high society on London’s scene.  As the years go by such famous people as the Duke of Kent, Wallis Simpson, the Kennedys from the U.S., and other royalty eat at their table.  Upstairs has its problems, of course, mostly centered around an out-of-control Lady Persephone, who is Lady Agnes’ sister.

Downstairs is the usual love/hate relationship between the staff.  The main focus is on the butler, housekeeper, cook, housemaid, footman, parlormaid, and chauffeur. Their secrets from the past often irritate and cause friction, much like Downton Abbey, while they live to serve the somewhat dysfunctional family upstairs.

The story is set pre-war and includes King Edward VIII’s abdication, and the numerous attempts to avoid war with Germany.  The first two seasons lead the audience through the years with interest, along with heart-wrenching scenes as England steps up to help the Jewish children fleeing the rising persecution of Jews. A little family scandal of an aunt being a lesbian causes a stir, as well as Persephone’s attraction and affair with a German officer.  Watching London prepare for a war they hope to avoid, helps to underscore the wounds that still abide from WWI and the fear of another looming on the horizon.

The cast is strong, the costumes well done, and the flavor of the 1930’s resonates throughout. Keeley Hawes who plays Lady Agnes is beautiful, as well as Claire Foy, her sister. Red lipstick, silk dresses, and wavy hair make them both stunningly gorgeous. Ed Stoppard, who plays Sir Hallam Holland, has the right uppity air for an aristocrat who is too busy to keep his marriage afloat. Downstairs you’ll quickly recognize Anne Reid as the cook, who plays in Last Tango in Halifax. She has the usual rough snippy edges about her personality. All in all, I found no complaint in the acting.

Season two, unfortunately, quickly ends in family tragedy for the Hollands.  War is declared, and everyone takes their part to do their duty.  Sir Holland is in uniform at the closing scene heading off probably to the war office, as well as his wife is in uniform telling her children she is off to help in the ambulance corps.  Unfortunately, the story ends here, but your interedownstairsst in each of their lives is not satisfied or brought to a happy ending especially when you know of the horrors that lie ahead for London.  As they march off to war, the audience is left with the uncertainty of what it will bring to each of the characters and leaves a very unsatisfying taste with no closure. From what I read, Season One had a booming audience, while Season Two slowly dwindled probably leading to its death.

You will see many similarities with Downton Abbey in this up and down tale of life for the upper and lower class.  It’s definitely not as good as others but, nevertheless, it’s worth the watch if you’re looking for the similar scenario filmed prior to the infamous Julian Fellowes’ soap opera regarding the Crawley family.  It’s now streaming on Hulu and available on Amazon Prime for free with the first episode The Fledgling

Woman in Gold (Movie 2015)

5 Kernels

Stars:   Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann and Ryan Reynolds as Randol Schoenberg

It’s pretty much a given that if I go see a movie when I’m personally going through emotional times, I will end up crying at the theatre. No matter what other critics think about the story, I will give it five kernels because I blubbered like a baby at the end.  Such is Woman in Gold, so if you are prone to tears bring tissues.
Woman of Gold is one of those movies based on a true story of Maria Altmann, who escaped Austria after Hilter took over and the persecution of Jewish citizens began.  Born in Vienna and raised there with her family, she was the niece of Adele Bloch-Bauer. Her beautiful aunt was the model in the painting below.
The story begins with the death of Maria’s sister, which resurrects the pain and loss of the past. The portrait of her aunt done by Gustav Klimt once belonged to her family, as well as other pieces of art.  When the Nazis invaded Austria, they took everything of value from Jewish families. Some of the works of art were placed by the Nazis in the Austrian State Gallery, whereupon after the war they remained and were never returned to their original owners.

Maria would like to retrieve the picture of her aunt and engages Randol Schoenberg, an attorney, to help win an uphill battle that spanned a number of years all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. As the story unfolds, the audience is taken back through flashbacks as Maria recalls the horrors of the past. Shortly after her wedding, the Nazis arrive and life for the Jews of Vienna turn into a dark nightmare.  She is fortunate enough to escape the country with her new husband, but her parents remain behind trapped and unable to leave.

Any role that Helen Mirren takes turns into gold, and this particular movie is no different. Her counterpart who plays her younger version, Tatiana Gabrielle Maslany, does a superb job. Maria’s young husband, played by Max Irons, is quite handsome and an opera singer. However, even though they are a stunning young couple, the world should never forget the persecution and terror the Jewish population endured during World War II.  Those scenes, powerfully done, tug at your heart, as you feel their fear trying to flee their homeland who has turned against them as citizens.

Ryan Reynolds is very good in his role as Maria’s attorney and probably the best acting performance I’ve seen on his part.

Needless to say, I found Woman in Gold a touching film. It’s a story of injustice and justice that will probably leave a tear in your eye at the end too.

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