Friday, 07 April 2017

Another mother's son

Jenny Seagrove plays a compassionate heroine during the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands

Written by Jason Solomons

The Nazi occupation of Jersey is largely neglected by cinema but it’s probably the most interesting thing ever to have happened there, apart from that episode of Bergerac that nearly had a car chase. The oddness of the invasion is brought home by a curious new film produced by Bill Kenwright, starring his missus Jenny Seagrove and based on the true story of Louisa Gould, grandmother of the film’s screenwriter, the former stand-up comedienne Jenny Lecoat. Film-Jul17-JasonSolomons-176

Lou, who speaks like she’s escaped from the east end, runs a village shop and maintains a chirpy disposition, despite the presence of Germans in jackboots on the village green and her two sons off fighting the war. Everyone in the village just seems to get on with it, muttering about Churchill not sending anyone to help them while tucking a cheeky rasher of bacon into their straw basket. Into this mix – which also involves Amanda Abbington, John Hannah and, for some reason, Ronan Keating – stumbles an escaped Russian PoW who’s hiding in the chicken coop. Lou, pining for her sons, takes him in and, because she can’t say Feodor, calls him Bill for the rest of the film. She gives him a nice attic room and forgets to tell him to turn the light out. When the German guards come knocking to moan about the light, it’s back to the chicken coop for Bill.

Even after that faint brush of excitement, Lou brazenly takes Bill for walks and bike rides and parades him around St Helier town centre which, as Keating helpfully points out, ‘is crawling with Nazis.’ What’s more, she lets Bill help out in the shop, serving the locals with a smile. He’s a free-range fugitive, this one, until a couple of old biddies who didn’t get their extra rations one day threaten to grass Lou up. Not even the chicken coop can save Bill this time – or can it?

The film nips along with a scarcely credible efficiency. You feel it couldn’t get any more like Sunday afternoon telly, but then it jolts into something more interesting and John Hannah has got a job in the post office and is steaming open poison pen letters from collaborators grassing up people who’ve got radios under the stairs or Russians in the attic. Seagrove begins to assert herself, too, giving Lou an impressive bravery and dignity, which all results in a far more emotional climax than the rest of the movie has really earned. We learn later, in a touching epitaph, that the real Lou eventually has a statue in Jersey and is hailed as a hero of the holocaust. In which case, Jenny certainly does her proud. I still have no idea what Ronan Keating was doing there, though he does belt out a Russian tune at one point. The German soldiers looked as confused as I was.

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