Based on a short story by the renowned Graham Green, the story behind the film production of Went the Day Well? is steeped in British wartime propaganda. With much modern history tending to focus on the indoctrination and brainwashing of the Nazi party in Germany, this Ealing Studios re-release is a refreshing change of perspective, showing how the British instructed their civilians to think. Even as Mervyn Johns opens the tale, telling the audience how the battle of Bramley End is one little documented in history text books, he immediately instils a sense of a moral lesson to be learnt.
Though the acting may seem somewhat stiff and wooden compared to the usual modern day theatrics, there’s a somewhat brutal reality to the war portrayed throughout the film that’s both refreshing and unexpected. In his portrayal of wartime Britain Alberto Cavalcanti leaves little to the imagination, both in terms of organised shootings and individual attempts for freedom, painting a stark picture of the reality of life in the Second World War for those at the mercy of the enemy. Though perhaps not best watched as a film for enjoyment or light-hearted entertainment, both the historical nature and propaganda status of the tale serve to make it an enlightening and intriguing watch.
The fast-paced nature of the film moves quickly forward, through day after day, the run time almost being a countdown until the end of the war, leading to a view of the film being a metaphor for the war as a whole. Indeed, even in the midst of oppression and at the threat of death we see the murmurs of dissent between the villagers, as they constantly use everyday items, such as books and eggs, to try and secure help. Women and children also seem to play a key role in the film, being the minds behind such plots and the first to have doubts over the authenticity of the arriving ‘British’ officers, suggesting a message that everyone, no matter who they are or what their position in society is can play a key role in the war effort.
As well as appreciating the depth of the message ingrained within the film, thanks to our modern day view, new ironies and viewpoints arise. For example as a German solider is told that the villagers have been surprised to learn the Germans are not the barbarians the propaganda dubs them, she is prompt to show this view as a lie, bludgeoning him around the head. Whilst not quite fitting the criteria for your average Saturday night blockbuster, Went the Day Well? is none the less an intriguing and insightful piece of cinematic history.