It Happened Here (1965)

Kevin Brownlow’s film about the Nazi inva­sion of Britain was conceived when he was just 18 and took him and his collab­or­ator, Andrew Mollo, over eight years to make. A very early example of ‘guer­rilla’ film-making, it was shot on 16mm film with a cast and produc­tion crew who were mainly volunteers.

Brownlow recalls shooting a sequence of Nazi soldiers in Trafalgar Square and just managing to finish it before he was arrested. Given these restric­tions, it’s a stag­gering achieve­ment, and what it lacks in polish it more than makes up for in its thoughtful and thought-provoking script.

Telling the story of Pauline, a nurse, it puts forward the thesis that the British, with their love of order and discip­line, would have prob­ably made good collab­or­ators if the Germans had actu­ally invaded.

Pauline wants to help and so, with the best inten­tions, she joins the British version of the Nazi party. This launches her on a moral journey in which she finds it harder and harder to recon­cile her decision with the things she witnesses. She finds an answer at the end but the film suggests that it may be illusory.

There are no heroes in this film and no ‘right’ side, only moral ques­tions. This makes it one of a very few genuine ‘anti-war’ films.


(see tech­nique notes: “The World of The Story“)

The film had huge trouble getting distri­bu­tion in Britain on release and it’s not diffi­cult to see why. It attacks one of the basic myths that has sustained this country: that the British people would have resisted fascism at any cost because there was some­thing funda­ment­ally different in their char­acter from other European nations.

For British viewers, the impact of this film also comes from its feeling of famili­arity. It resembles a lot of propa­ganda wartime films made in Britain with its images of plucky Brits carrying on their daily busi­ness. But this is an inver­sion of that world; one in which the propa­ganda elements have been subverted to give a very different message.

In the sequence here, you get some­thing of that impact in a visual form. The images are familiar but the setting is not, and the total effect is rather unsettling.

Scene 2

Spoiler alert
Warning –  this clip comes close to the end of the movie. This is a really great film –  so watch the whole of it first if you can.

This second scene happens towards the end of the film and adopts the same approach of showing the familiar out of context but for very different purposes.
In this sequence, the prot­ag­onist Pauline escapes to the country after suffering a minor break­down. Everything appears idyllic and she thinks she has finally found a refuge.

© David Clough 2010

It Happened Here screenshots


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