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1939 is set between present-day London and the idyllic British countryside in the time before the beginning of the Second World War. At a time of uncertainty and high tension, the story revolves around the formidable Keyes family, who are keen to uphold and preserve their very traditional way of life. The eldest sibling Anne is a budding young actress who is in love with Foreign Office official Lawrence, but her seemingly perfect life begins to dramatically unravel when she stumbles across secret recordings of the pro-appeasement movement. While trying to discover the origin of these recordings, dark secrets are revealed which lead to the death of a great friend. As war breaks out Anne discovers the truth and flees to London to try to confirm her suspicions, but she is caught and imprisoned and only then does she finally begin to discover how badly she has been betrayed. Written by
Anne Keyes disturbingly uncovers a sinister plot without apparent motive in a story told as a flashback in a way that is helpful to its audience.
This is a very British film about guilty pasts, family values and inner strength set around the outbreak of WW2. As with much British mystery drama on screen there is a lavish dedication to quality acting, strong story telling, and brilliant cinematography. It is a compelling watch despite some plot flaws and moments when the story doesn't quite flow as convincingly as it should. But there is tension, intrigue, suspense, and menace in just the right quantities to keep us gripped and interested.
Romola Garai gives us a superbly convincing portrayal of Anne with some great support notably from Jeremy Northam (Balcombe), Sam Kubrick-Finney (young Walter), Hugh Bonnevile (Gilbert) and Juno Temple (Celia). Some familiar faces also provide strong cameos.
My one reservation about the film, and what stops me from awarding more than eight out of ten, is that it is slightly too cold, too austere, too abrupt when, perhaps, we are in need of a little warmth and camaraderie. But this is a story about the outbreak of war and the destruction heaped upon truth, privilege and family values and so it is a matter of subjective judgement. You should go and see it for Romola Garai's performance alone.
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