15-Minute Drama on BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4, 21-25 February 2012
In 1942 the Ealing Studios film Went the Day Well? offered a nightmarish vision of what Britain might have been like it if had been colonized by the Nazis. Life apparently went on as normal, but some of the inhabitants of a small rural village seemed almost too British, as if they were trying just that little bit too hard. It eventually turns out that they are disguised German paratroopers preparing for a full-scale invasion.
Ed Harris' The Resistance of Mrs. Brown took the idea much further by showing what happened if the Nazis had achieved their aim. Britain was now ruled by a totalitarian government, epitomized by Oberst Vitte (Simon Wilson), and Sturmbannfuhrer Smith (James Lailey). They were outwardly polite, spoke perfect English, and worshipped authority. No one had the temerity to question them if they valued their freedom.
There was a resistance movement of sorts, but it appeared to have little effect: a rebellion in Liverpool was brutally quashed. As is often the case, however, the Nazis only "scotch'd the snake," but didn't kill it: the movement resurfaced and concocted a bold plot to blow up a visiting German, Professor Blau, who was about to interrogate an imprisoned British scientist.
Mrs. Brown (Amanda Root) was a tea-lady working in the corridors of power - at the beginning of the drama, her sole interests consisted of serving her German employers and looking after her errant daughter Maisie (Ellie Kendrick), who possessed an over-romantic imagination. However Mrs. Brown was gradually co-opted into the resistance movement, in spite of her apprehensions. While maintaining an outwardly insignificant exterior (she acquired the soubriquet 'Mrs. Nobody'), she undertook the responsibility of blowing the German up. As the drama unfolded, so she acquired an inner strength - as seen, for instance, in the way she communicated the story direct to listeners in asides. evem if she was not always sure of the language used by resistance fighters ("what do you call it -- an alibi?")
Jonquil Panting's production was distinguished by a strong central performance from Root, whose initial fears were superseded by a steely resolve to carry out her tasks for the resistance, in spite of the considerable dangers involved. She was the kind of no-nonsense person who could carry out her daily tasks while maintaining an absolute authority over her daughter. In an entertainingly unexpected ending, she ended up taking matters into her own hands.
Sometimes the period references seemed almost too forced (on more than one occasion Harris referred to the make-do culture characteristic of wartime, as women painted their legs rather than wearing stockings), but the drama as a whole proved extremely entertaining, showing how the bravest acts of courage are undertaken by those people who act according to their consciences, rather than simply obeying orders.