Review: Resistance (PG) / Directed by: Amit Gupta / Written by: Owen Sheers, Amit Gupta / Starring: Michael Sheen, Andrea Riseborough, Iwan Rheon, Kimberley Nixon, Stanislav Ianevski / Release Date: 25/11/11
Alternate history has long been a staple of genre cinema. Most famously in literature it has been represented by Robert A.Heinlein’s 1941 novel Elsewhen and Philip K.Dick novel The Man in the High Castle which depicted a world in which Japan and Germany won the second world war. There has been something of a boom since the 90s with a whole myriad of ‘steampunk’ literature depicting fantasy worlds where steam is the power of choice over electricity. The sub genre has been represented in film with the little seen Fatherland from 1994, most recently in Inglourious Basterds, and faux documentary The Confederate States of America. Resistance is based on the novel by Owen Sheers and depicts a world where D-Day has failed and Nazi Germany is invading England. This story is less concerned with flash bangs and pyrotechnics and instead focusses on character and emotion, and in this respect it works really well.
The film begins with Sarah Lewis (Andrea Riseborough) awaking in her farm house in an isolated Welsh valley to find her husband has gone. All men have vanished from this small farming community as they have, overnight, gone off to join the resistance. We see the evidence of a small resistance movement building, and a local man is tasked with providing information via a drop point under a bridge. Through radio broadcasts we learn that there are major battles going on in cities like Birmingham, Manchester and London. From here we follow Sarah and Maggie (Sharon Morgan) as they await the arrival of a small squadron of Germans who are tasked with searching for an old artefact by the SS. The Germans eventually show up lead by Captain Albrecht Wolfram (Tom Wlaschiha) and make themselves at home in the valley. The women initially resist their offers of companionship and camaraderie, Captain Albrecht however finds himself drawn to Sarah who is increasingly heart broken and distant over her missing husband.
If you do not go into Resistance expecting bullets to fly all over the place and limbs being blown off Saving Private Ryan style then there is much here to admire. The story poses some interesting questions that often get lost in higher budget movies that are more concerned with explosions and death. Specifically when do you stop resisting the new regime and start getting along just to survive? Are women, who have essentially been abandoned by their husbands, collaborators because they have no other means of living? These are interesting questions that must have been asked many times the world over in countries with less stable histories. By transposing the story to a theoretical scenario in a quiet community in Wales, it brings the horror of the situation home and makes it more identifiable. One of the great things about this story is the fact that the Germans in the film are not portrayed as monsters taking great joy in doing great evil. The men are essentially portrayed as human beings, vulnerable and as scared as everyone else and tasked to do something they may not agree with but happens to be their job. Further food for thought is provided when the German forces behave with nothing but dignity and kindness and the resistance that there is left behave in an almost despicable and vindictive fashion.
The film is anchored by a trio of terrific performances. Andrea Riseborough who was so impressive in Brighton Rock, plays a woman who is always on the verge of collapsing to her knees in hopeless despair and manages to convey an awful lot just through the look in her eyes. This actress will definitely go a long way and I look forward to what she gets involved with next. Sharon Morgan is not an actress whose work I am familiar with but here she plays almost an older version of Riseborough’s character and does a stellar job. Being the oldest of the women left behind she is seen as the matriarchal figure and clearly is just as troubled as the rest of them by the new occupation. There is a moment when Morgan has to portray an absolute sense of loss and grief and does so magnificently and with incredible ease. Lastly the German actor Tom Wlaschiha certainly looks the part, he has the same appearance that many of the Nazi’s from the Indiana Jones movies have, a kind of steely icy resolve, but manages to invest Captain Wolfram with a warmth and humanity that is entirely absent from most cinematic portrayals of Nazis. There are some brilliant scenes of Captain Wolfram with his men, who are all scared and homesick, and Wolfram has to keep up morale and somehow not betray his command due to his growing feeling for Sarah. It’s a credit to director Amit Gupta that he manages to keep all of these performances balanced and reined in just enough so that it doesn’t slide into histrionics.
The problems with Resistance and what holds it back from being a great movie are specifically two things. The first thing is, essentially apart from the thought provoking story, it does not seem like it amounts to a hell of a lot. It sort of just hangs around with a generally dour feeling to it without ever truly thrilling either through the narrative or any kind of set piece. We learn that there is a major war going on across the rest of the UK through radio broadcasts. A couple of scenes depicting this would have gone some way to addressing the feeling that there isn’t much at stake. Another issue is something that should have been a major strength - I don’t know what it was shot on, and it may have just been the screen I saw it on, but Resistance is an ugly looking film. Every frame has a washed out look to it and most of the film seemed to be quite blurry. Considering that Wales is very beautiful and you can tell the locations were picturesque it’s a shame that somehow they were not able to capture that and give the film more of an epic sweep that is sorely missing.
Resistance likely won’t change your life, but for the short running time it's entertaining enough and nice change of pace from the norm. Sadly its flaws are all too glaring and you can’t shake the feeling this was a missed opportunity.
Predicted rating: 8 out of 10