Review by Jack Foley
STEPHEN Poliakoff’s belated return to film is a disappointing pre-World War II thriller that fails to make the most of either its top-drawer cast or fascinating storyline.
Rather, the film suffers from some painfully hokey plotting, a wretched framing device that merely adds unnecessary padding and curiously short-lived appearances from key cast members.
Set in 1939 as Britain stands on the brink of war with Germany, the film unfolds from the perspective of the wealthy, traditional Keyes family and friends and the sinister conspiracy they subsequently become caught up in.
Eldest, adopted daughter Anne (Romola Garai) finds her loyalty tested when she stumbles upon the conspiracy, which could implicate key members in a plot to silence Churchill’s supporters and appease Hitler.
But she’s very much a woman alone, as her sympathetic father (Bill Nighy) is too often absent and oblivious to her predicament, while valuable supporters have the habit of going missing or winding up dead.
To be fair, Poliakoff’s screenplay sheds a fascinating light on a key moment in English history that could have changed the direction of World War II and is a dark story that plays out with Hitchcockian elements in mind.
It also boasts a terrific central performance from Garai, which merely underlines her reputation as one of Britain’s brightest emerging talents.
But while Poliakoff does deliver a genuine sense of unease and creepiness at times, whilst playing up the paranoia inherent in Garai’s leading heroine, he also mis-handles some of the film’s key plot devices.
A sequence involving a missing baby simply doesn’t convince on any level, while the fate of certain characters is made a little too obvious. There are times when the film appears to be going through the motions, when a little more slight of hand may have helped.
Disappointing, too, is the fact that key cast members such as David Tennant (as a robust Churchill supporter), Julie Christie (as a family member) and Charlie Cox (Garai’s lover) are under-developed and under-used, while the likes of Nighy, Eddie Redmayne, Jeremy Northam and Jenny Agutter suffer similar fates.
Poliakoff’s film therefore ends up being a hugely frustrating affair that never really comes close to reaching the heights suggested by the talent involved.
Running time: 2hrs 9mins
UK DVD Release: March 29, 2010