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Set during the occupation of the Channel Islands during World War II. The story shows how Island life changed overnight after a German invasion. Islanders were restricted to walking and cycling, town names were changed to German names, clocks were set to continental time, and no society could meet without the permission of German High Command. The focus is on three families, the Dorrs, the Jonases and the Mahys, as they struggle on with day to day life under the restrictive new system. Written by
"Island at War" is an odd duck maybe more of a platypus, a hybrid creature. As far as production values go, there's nothing to complain of here. The cast is first rate, from the largest role to the smallest. The performances are very real and affecting. The WW II era Channel Islands setting shops, costumes, cars, music appears authentic and convincing.
There's a venerable tradition of the most gloriously unrealistic, star-crossed, soap opera romance during the World War Two era the pinnacle of that cinematic tradition would have to be "Casablanca." And then there are the more gritty, relatively realistic films that depict World War Two for the hell it was "Schindler's List," for example.
There are a couple of scenes in "Island at War" that are very hard to watch. In one, a drugged Englishwoman is handcuffed to a metal hospital bed. Her legs have been spread; she's exposed and defenseless to the worst assault imaginable. A Gestapo torturer stands over her, ready to do whatever he has to do to get her to cooperate.
On the other hand, "Island At War" contains several scenes more appropriate to a "Casablanca" style WWII romance. Here's the kicker the male lead in this star-crossed romantic triangle is a high ranking Nazi commander, the leader of the invading forces. No attempt is made to make this Nazi a prisoner of his own conscience who hides secret resistance to the Nazi agenda and who will somehow acquit himself. Rather, he goes out of his way to state that experience has taught him that he could command his own men to shoot each other to death for no other reason than because he has told them to do so. Thus, he makes it clear that he has committed his share of empty mass murders for the Nazi cause. This Nazi, Rheingarten, is played in a most charismatic manner by Philip Glenister. Glenister's given several scenes to develop a sympathetic character. He strips off his Nazi uniform jacket and helps a common laborer erect a stone wall, offering warm paternal mentoring as he does so; he kisses the hand of Mrs. Dorr, the woman for whom he yearns, and is attentive to her in other ways; he sheds tears over a death. Rheingarten is depicted as nothing so much as the ideal husband and father: quietly rational, thoughtful, sentimental, careful of others' feelings, masterful when in command, and handy to have around the house. If this depiction of a Nazi does not rankle you, we need to start from scratch.
"I like this series. It doesn't present the stereotype of Nazis as killing machines," one viewer wrote. Perhaps this viewer has been brainwashed by Political Correctness, which insists that there is no such thing as truth, but, rather, only stereotypes and images. The truth is that the Nazis *were* killing machines. There were not only death camps like Auschwitz and Treblinka; there was also Nazi warfare that violated all civilized norms. I dare anyone who insists that nice guys dreamed up, and then deployed, the Einsatzgruppen, the gas vans, the murder of handicapped children, the Blitzkrieg in Poland. Watch documentary footage like "Triumph of the Will;" study archival photos of Nazis in action. Most were not, unlike Philip Glenister, handsome. Even those that were handsome have the look of hardened killers. Sure, Nazis could be charming; even Fania Fenellon, who survived Auschwitz, described Mengele as an always well-dressed, charming man. But superficial charm and immaculate clothing are not the same as goodness. Baron Rheingarten is depicted not just as handsome, not just as well dressed, not just as masterful, but also as fair and good, and that is something that the Nazis were not. Had they been, the between fifty and seventy million people killed during WW II might not have died. Some might argue that the Channel Islands occupation was different; Nazis were much nicer there. In fact, the Jews on the Channel Islands were rounded up by Nazis, with English collaboration, and murdered in Auschwitz. Unless I missed it, this is not mentioned in the series.
"Island at War" attempts to deal with the badness of Nazism by featuring good Nazis versus bad Nazis, sort of like good cop v. bad cop. Rheingarten is the good, and hot, Nazi. Walker is the bad one. Walker of course, also played by a handsome, charismatic actor, is also hot. Okay. History lesson learned.
Another odd feature of this series. If you came to it with no knowledge of World War Two, you might conclude that Nazism was a movement much like Robert Bly's "Men's Movement." It made men cry and beg women for romantic attention. The women all refuse, and the men become very frustrated. A good portion of the scenes in "Island at War" depicts attentive, love-starved Nazi men ever so timidly and politely begging English women for some sugar; the coy English flirts only tease them in return. Lieutenant Walker all but gets on his knees to Zelda, the English girl of his dreams, who rebuffs him with all the coldness of a dominatrix: "You repel me." This scene is a killer Walker is the bad Nazi, and in this scene, you really want the writers to plumb the mysteries of evil. How could such a bad man love so purely? Can the love of a good woman save a bad man? There is no exploration of these themes. Like most other Island women, Zelda puts herself in compromising positions with a Nazi man, and then blows him off.
I'll say one thing for this series. After watching it years ago, I never forget Philip Glenister's performance. I studied it again when the series came out on DVD. He really is doing something special here, and one only wishes he had a better, more coherent, more integral role in which to work his mojo.
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