Once something of a mainstay in cinemas, films about World War II have faded into the background in recent years and the few that have made it onto the big screen have been something of a disappointment. Think of the recent Allied, the star-studded Monuments Men and Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken. Only Brad Pitt’s Fury kept comfortably kept its head above water.
Sadly, the latest offering, Another Mother’s Son, seems determined to continue that downward trajectory. Based on the little known true story of heroism from the Second World War, it’s set on Jersey: the Channel Islands were as close as the Nazis got to invading Britain and were used mainly as labour camps. Any locals with links to the mainland were sent to Germany and local shopkeeper Louisa Gould (Jenny Seagrove) comes perilously close to seeing her brother in law, Arthur (John Hannah), suffer the same fate. With that resolved, she then finds herself sheltering a Russian POW who’s escape the brutality of a nearby camp and, despite all the inherent dangers, she manages to escape detection for a long time. But there are people in the small village where she lives who are only too willing to betray their neighbours by sending anonymous letters to the occupying forces.
The top billing for Seagrove doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. At best a lightweight in the acting stakes, the lead role in what has the potential to be a powerfully emotional melodrama doesn’t look like a good fit. And it’s not. The fact that the film was produced by theatrical impresario Bill Kenwright doesn’t help. Most of his other cinematic efforts have sunk without trace, the only exception being the BIFA winning Broken (2012). Judging from this effort, he should stick to the day job.
The sad thing is that this is based on a true story – the people involved lived and breathed – and it’s been written by Louisa’s great niece, Jenny Lecoat, so it’s a personal project as well. But it takes extraordinary skill to reduce something that should have been gripping and inspirational to such a pile of mush. Even something as basic as the narrative doesn’t work especially well. The relationships between Louisa and Arthur, Ivy (Amanda Abbington), Rex (Brenock O’Connor) and Harold (Ronan Keating – yes, that Ronan Keating) aren’t explained with much clarity and trying to work them out is distracting. Turns out that Ivy is her sister, she’s married to Arthur and Rex is their son. Harold is Louisa’s brother, but it all takes some unravelling.
Keating’s appearance is a complete oddity. It’s not his cinematic debut but it is his first attempt at a serious role. He’s no actor, so perhaps he got the part because his character has to sing a few notes at a crucial moment in the film. But it hardly justifies putting him in a role that involves him showing the aftermath of time spent in a concentration camp. Or, indeed, being one of the two key players in what’s meant to be the film’s emotional climax. The other one is Seagrove and, at that moment, they’re both as bad as each other.
In its defence, the film does make an attempt at a moral dilemma, the familiar “what would you do in their shoes in an occupied country?” one. It all involves Arthur, the deputy postmaster who discovers anonymous letters to the German HQ, tipping them off about illicit activities. He tries to prevent them being sent, but is reminded by his boss (Nicholas Farrell) that their job is to get the mail delivered, regardless of its contents. So what should he do when he comes across one about his own sister in law and the escaped POW in her house? Unfortunately, like everything else in the film, it’s reduced to the banal and clichéd. In fact, it’s amazing that nobody has informed on her before, as she’s hardly been discreet about the stranger in her midst, taking him into town and going on bike rides with him.
Watching the supporting cast work – Joanna David, Gwen Taylor, Nicholas Farrell, Susan Hampshire, Peter Wight – Another Mother’s Son looks more like it’s set in those fictional Midsomer villages, not Jersey. Surprisingly, though, Barnaby doesn’t put in an appearance. Oh, oh, oh, what a tepid war…
Another Mother’s Son opens in UK cinemas on 24th March.