The London Moment in Big Pictures: Allied (2016)

The blog’s subject, Europeans in wartime London, has been covered by a couple of feature films. There is the classic: Ernst Lubitsch’s „To be or not to be“ from 1947 about a Polish theatre company changing Second World War history. In 2008, Nick Whitby also staged the plot of the film as a play. Then there is the 2017adaption by Christopher Nolan  of the evacuation at Dunkirk in 1941. And of course there is more than one film about Churchill: this year alone, two films came out. One facing the darkest ours of Great Britain during the battle of England with a barely recognizable Gary Oldman posing as the British Prime Minister. Or there is „Allied“ with Brad Pitt as a Canadian intelligence officer and Marillon Cotillard as a woman of the Résistance.

Over the next time, this blog will introduce to you some films in short reviews.  I’ll begin with „Allied“. 

The American drama “Allied“ about two spies falling in love came out in 2016 and was directed by Robert Zameckis, also director of „Back to the future“ or „Forest Gump“. The screenplaywriter Steven Knight claims that “Allied” was based on true events, told to him by someone back when he was 21.

Casablanca 1942: the Canadian Air Force Pilot Max Vatan and the French Resistance fighter Marianne Beauséjour are brought together for a special job: the assassination of the German ambassador. To cover the mission and reach the ambassador’s party, they both pretend to be a couple and then actually fall in love. 

The mission succeeds and they return to London, where they get married. During the wedding reception at a pub you hear rumbling in the distance. Max’ sister comments on the bombing and sirens “Honestly, I’ll miss the Blitz. I will. No one cares who does what to who. So we should be drinking at war. And freedom.“ Then she kisses her girlfriend. And Max’ boss Frank, slightly drunk, appears with a bottle of champagne and a fun fact: “Only thing in London not rationed, champagne!“ So he will miss notably the Ritz War.

Foto: Paramount Pictures Germany

© Paramount Pictures Germany

Some months later, Marianne’s child is born during an air raid. To another party at their house in Hampstead, Marianne invited “Refugees, intellectuals and bohemians“. The party is interrupted by a German airplane crashing into the back garden. At that time, Max already knows about the suspicion of Section V (a central foreign counter-espionage Circulating Section) concerning Marianne’s identity: according to some information, Marianne Beauséjour was arrested and executed in 1941. Her identity was then given to a German agent. The double agent Marianne is accused of sending information concerning activities of SOE (Special Operations Executive) circuits in France to Germany. The Geman Ambassador she and Max assassinated in Casablanca was a dissident. 

The main plot of the film might not concern the blog’s matters: it is a tragic love story set as a spy film during the Second World War. But incidentally and perhaps accidentally the film shows in brief moments the everyday life in London with the Blitz. And in so far it refers to the London Moment. It deals with the work of the Secret Intelligence Service and perhaps a bit with International relations in London in that time: a Canadian pilot and a French women married in London. But in fact it was not that easy to immigrate to Great Britain during the war. The evacuation of the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) and French soldiers from Dunkirk and the French sailors and ratings from Mers-él-Kébir in Summer 1940 had raised fears of a fifth column in the British Government. Just from Dunkirk over 140,000 French refugees came to Britain. If not immediately repatriated, they were initially interned  in prisons and reception centers – later at Royal Victoria Patriotic School (RVPS) in Wandsworth and screened by the MI5 and French institutions. The latter maintained close relations to the Resistance movement in France. The British Government looked on refugees of any nationality as an irritant that might upset carefully laid military plans, alleged fifth columnists were to be spotted everywhere that time – apparently with the exception of pretty women of the Resistance. This fifth column scare calmed down after the repatriation of the majority of suspect French refugees but did not disappear completely until the end of war. 


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