Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. United Kingdom, 2009. BBC Films, UK Film Council, Screen East Content Investment Fund, Quickfire Films, Talkback Thames, Magic Light Pictures. Screenplay by Stephen Poliakoff. Cinematography by Danny Cohen. Produced by Martin Pope, Barney Reisz. Music by Adrian Johnston. Production Design by Mark Leese. Costume Design by Annie Symons. Film Editing by Jason Krasucki. Toronto International Film Festival 2009.
A young boy approaches two elderly gentlemen and announces that he is distantly related to them and has questions about the past. He wants to know about a distant aunt and her disappearance during the Second World War, which leads the two men (Christopher Lee and Corin Redgrave in his final film) to flash back to 1939. The aunt in question, Romola Garai in her strongest performance, is the adopted daughter of an aristocratic family led by Bill Nighy, her siblings Eddie Redmayne and Juno Temple as devoted to her as if she were a blood relation. After the mysterious suicide of a left-wing member of Parliament, Garai stumbles upon a number of mysterious gramophone records that feature heated conversations between men whose voices she recognizes. More fatalities and more records eventually have her realize that people close to her are involved spying for the Germans, which means danger for her when her credibility is brought into question and she becomes the victim of her family’s intense concern. Stephen Poliakoff returns to feature filmmaking for the first time in almost a decade with this richly enjoyable thriller, one with a terrifying tension of fear and suspicion that takes your breath away quickly and doesn’t allow the tension to release until the (admittedly weak) conclusion. As always, the author is out to point out the inherent corruption of the country’s upper classes, who, we are told, would have lost us the war if we had given in to their spoiled weakness. Whether or not that was actually the case will inspire more than a healthy level of debate among viewers, and Poliakoff’s habit of comfortless plotting (he rarely cares if you actually know what’s going on and spares us the unnecessary details) will not work for everyone, but the photography is beautiful and the performances terrific.